By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 13, 2010
The overcast skies and surprisingly chilly weather did not dampen the enthusiasm at the dedication and blessing of the West End Family Support Center, a new St. Vincent de Paul Society facility located on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard in West Atlanta, on Tuesday, April 27.
The center, which is to be operated as a collaborative effort of three local St. Vincent de Paul conferences, will offer food and other assistance to people during these increasingly difficult economic times.
“We did it,” said John Berry, chief executive officer and executive director of the SVdP Atlanta Council, to the crowd of about 50 gathered outside the facility. “It took two and a half years, but we did it.”
Berry was one of many people to address the crowd that day, and he took time to express his thanks to all those who made the opening of the new center a reality.
Among those was Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who spoke and prayed with the group present at the center and also blessed and dedicated the new building.
“All of you are here because you have hearts for the poor,” Archbishop Gregory said. “You know the importance of caring for the poor. … (The poor) are present in increasing numbers.”
The archbishop said that people need to become the hands, eyes and heart of God to serve the poor and that those behind the support center have answered to the call to become caretakers of the poor in their own community.
Also in attendance were Bill Bolling, president of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Joe Krygiel, CEO of Catholic Charities Atlanta, Major Jim Seiler, metro Atlanta area commander of the Salvation Army, and Tom Andrews, president of Saint Joseph Hospital Mercy Care Services.
Located near St. Anthony of Padua Church, the West End Family Support Center will be operated by SVdP councils from Atlanta parishes St. Anthony, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Paul of the Cross. These local SVdP conferences will provide a wide variety of services in the categories of education, benefits and nutrition, making it easier for individuals and families in need to get the most information and services in one place.
Visitors, or those referred to the support center, are interviewed to assess their situations and determine how the facility can best respond. The support center’s goal is to provide long-lasting solutions that will help clients move beyond their current crisis or continuous cycle.
A primary focus of the center is to provide food. After the initial interview, clients are invited to shop in the Client-Choice Food Pantry with a volunteer’s help to select food determined by a “point system” that uses a formula based on the number of adults and children in the family, spread across the food groups of the USDA food pyramid guidelines. Clients can select foods they like from among all the choices in the food pyramid categories.
According to the newest data from Feeding America’s report, “Hunger in America 2010,” 54 percent of surveyed clients reported choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities. Nearly 55 percent of the people who seek help with food assistance pay other bills rather than buy food.
In addition, 40 percent of the members of households served are children under the age of 18, and 13 percent of the members of client households are elderly. Some 38 percent choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage; 45 percent choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care, and 42 percent choose between paying for food and paying for transportation.
These numbers are among the reasons why SVdP opened another support center in Atlanta.
“Through these tough economic times St. Vincent de Paul is committed to establishing new opportunities to move food to people who need it the most,” said Berry. “No one should have to choose between having water, heat and light for their home and putting food on the table.”
Berry also mentioned to the crowd that SVdP Atlanta hopes to open a second support center this year and plans to continue the trend in 2011.
Since 1903, SVdP has continuously developed centers to support the growing number of people living at or near the poverty line in Georgia. With food requests up 100 percent over this time last year and an unemployment rate that has just topped 10 percent, the society continues to respond to the ever-increasing needs.
To donate food, funds or to volunteer, contact the director of support programs, Jim Verrecchia, at (678) 892-6175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.