By MARK WOOLSEY, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 17, 2020
ATLANTA—Saketha Fleming of Norcross swears by the help that St. Vincent de Paul Georgia provided her at a crucial time.
The single mother of three was working only a temporary job and had moved to escape a toxic personal situation. Needing financial and emotional support, she walked into a Catholic church one day and was referred to the society, which she said analyzed her situation and provided help with rent, groceries and prayer support. A year later, she still partners with a SVdP caseworker who helps “keep her on her toes” by assisting her with employment issues, maintaining a household and other challenges.
“Me and my children could have been on the streets if it weren’t for St. Vincent de Paul,” she said.
Now, the non-profit is poised to touch more lives than ever before and in new and innovative ways.
The agency has announced the public phase of its $7.5 million Hope Transformed capital campaign, seeking to raise $650,000 to put finishing touches on a mammoth construction and renovation project at its statewide hub. The money will also go toward acquiring technology, equipment and fixtures for both new and existing programs.
The refurbished facility spanning some 50,000 square feet will support 72 local conferences around the state and in excess of 5,000 volunteers who help more than 116,000 Georgians annually.
Chief Executive Officer John Berry said they had been renting space in the building at 2050 Chamblee Tucker Road, Atlanta, for 20 years “then the opportunity came up to purchase it at a greatly reduced price.”
“It is a 40-year old building and it was getting a little long in the tooth,” he said, prompting a feasibility study focusing on how the structure could be upgraded to handle new programs and an expansion of existing functions.
Berry said that beefed-up roster of services came out of the organization’s most recent strategic plan, done in 2017, which asked the non-profit’s thousands of volunteers and various community partners how SVdP Georgia should up its game.
The result: a new community pharmacy, a multifaceted jobs center, an expanded food pantry incorporating a brand-new teaching kitchen designed to demonstrate how to prepare healthy meals and a quadrupled-in-size education center with connected classrooms featuring high-quality video training that can be exported to any part of the state.
The education center will hold to its missions of training volunteers on how to help the needy and offering clients classes on a plethora of topics ranging from basic budgeting to quitting smoking.
Meeting a glaring need
Berry said the pharmacy service is probably the most wide-ranging and complex initiative the society has launched in years—and one aiming to meet a glaring need.
As he put it, “People who are on fixed or limited incomes with medical needs for regular medications are often forced to choose between feeding their families, clothing their children, paying their mortgage payments or taking their medication. This is an unacceptable choice to ask people to make.”
Volunteer Eric Doherty heads the board that will oversee the pharmacy program expected to go “live” around Oct. 1. He said more than a quarter-of-a-million people in the state are estimated to qualify for free meds because of limited income and lack of insurance or Medicaid coverage, and that the numbers could be two or three times higher due to Covid-19-related job losses.
Doherty said that purchased and donated medications provided to clients will focus on such health concerns as cardiovascular disease, blood pressure issues, respiratory health, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression and influenza and other communicable illnesses.
Officials said the pandemic has also increased the need for the newly-created jobs center.
“We’ll have computer workstations where people can do job searches, fill out applications and do online training,” said Berry. “There will be a video room for people to do practice job interviews. And we have a room where our partners can come in and do job fairs.”
The charity said they are looking to bridge the $650,000 gap with help from individuals, parishes and foundations.
Fleming, the client from Norcross, said she may well be utilizing the Georgia organization’s expanded roster of services. And she’s filled with gratitude about its presence in her life.
“They haven’t left my side and they’re still working to make sure things are OK with me,” she said.