Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Johnathon Kelso
Volunteer Nancy Campos helps a shopper at St. Vincent de Paul Georgia's Client-Choice Food Pantry in Chamblee.


St. Vincent de Paul Georgia seeks volunteer help as aid requests surge 

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 2, 2024

ATLANTA—Leaders at St. Vincent de Paul Georgia are mounting a new push to ease the burden on the ministry volunteers who respond to crisis phone calls, visit people in their homes and provide emergency assistance as requests for help escalate.  

As incoming appeals surge for services that can mean the difference between a family keeping their home or having heat during winter, the charity is starting a recruitment campaign to draw more people into its ministry.     

The number of people served by volunteers, known as Vincentians, jumped some 25 percent from 2022 to 2023. About 192,000 people in 2023 were helped, according to the nonprofit.  

Called “Love Your Neighbor. Live Vincentian,” the effort aims to reach a new group of prospective volunteers who can deliver food, visit families and fulfill tasks helping people in need and connecting them with the community.  

The campaign kicked off on April 23, the 1833 founding date of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and will conclude on Sept. 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul.    

St. Vincent de Paul Georgia seeks to recruit possible Vincentians throughout the state “who are looking for a place to live out their faith through service, in community and with purpose,” said Executive Director Mike Mies.

On April 27, about 300 members attended workshops at a daylong meeting at St. Pius X High School.

The organization is examining how it responds to changing realities. Mies said parish-based volunteers are overwhelmed with new, complex cases, including immigrants seeking services, a rise in the number of people who are homeless and changes in the nature of homelessness.  

At the same time, the organization is aware of the growing number of people who are not affiliated with the church or any religious institution.  

“They’re seeking to serve, but in other ways. We need to figure out how we can engage those people and engage them in service, even though they’re not part of an organized church,” said Mies. 

St. Vincent de Paul Caseworker Christine Collins, left, and Council Casework Manager Christa Frye, right, speak with Dulce Guzman and her son, Matheo de Leon at their office in Chamblee. Photo by Johnathon Kelso

The recruitment effort is part of the conversation that will take place over the next couple of years, examining the strengths and strategies of the organization, he said.  

“Nobody’s got the perspective that we have. Nobody does the work that we do, the way we do it,” said Mies. “We need to amplify our voice and utilize that.” 

Longtime volunteers share stories 

Longtime ministry participants said the work brings out the best in their faith. At Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 68-year-old Javier Lurch, a retired college professor, admits he is too intellectual. What was going to be a one-time effort to deliver Thanksgiving meals a decade ago evolved, so now he is the president of the 60-member parish conference and serves as a caseworker, visiting people in need of help in their homes. The people he has helped with St. Vincent de Paul have expanded his compassion.  

Lurch quipped that he’s a “Catholic with little faith.” He’s done the reading, studied the Bible, been a lifelong church member. For him, it is just knowledge on top of knowledge.  

“Being involved really increases my faith. To me, it is a more powerful means to increase your faith,” he said.  

Mike McLoughlin started with St. Vincent de Paul when he was in his 20s. He has worshipped at three Atlanta area parishes and always connects with the society at every church community. He appreciates how people can customize their service by doing specific programs that balance work and family obligations. McLoughlin, who is 48 and works in market research, said the work is always challenging but draws out the best in him.  

“You approach every case prayerfully. You go in with an open mind and an open heart, and we try to see the face of Christ in the people we’re helping.”  

National challenge facing charities  

Nonprofits across the country feel the need for volunteers. A survey revealed the formal volunteering rate in the country decreased incrementally for years until it sunk by 7% during the pandemic. This was the most significant change in the more than 20 years of AmeriCorps and the US Census Bureau asking the question. In the Atlanta metro area, about 1 out of 5 adults formally volunteers, according to the survey.   

The mural “Radiate” by artist Jonesy inspires visitors to the St. Vincent de Paul Service Center in Chamblee. Photo by Johnathon Kelso

Volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul have increased, but not at the same rate as the need for assistance. There are some 3,000 volunteer members in 73 conferences throughout the state. It is a 16% increase from 2018.  

However, both financial support and home visits require more volunteers. Ministry members conducted 28,477 home visits in 2023, compared to 21,868 home visits in 2022—an increase of 30%. Financial support to pay rent, utility bills and other costs went up to $19,949,271 in direct aid in 2023, compared to $16,835,343 provided in 2022—an increase of approximately 19%.  

The campaign’s goals are to highlight how Vincentians grow in their faith and service to God through lending a hand to those neighbors in need.  

A dozen members serve with St. Vincent de Paul at St. Gerard Majella Church in Fort Oglethorpe near the Tennessee state line. The group is led by Karen Baldwin, a 72-year-old retired senior corporate manager who joined the parish six years ago. The group primarily addresses utility and rental assistance for people in financial crisis in Catoosa and Walker counties.   

In just the first four months of the year, they paid approximately $5,000 in utilities to keep the lights and the heat on and $1,100 in rental payments to keep people from being evicted.  

Recently, they opened the monthly Gabriel’s Hope food pantry to ease the burden of rising grocery prices. This new effort supports roughly two dozen families a month. Another new project is a collaboration with local law enforcement to distribute Blessing Bags for the homeless.  

Baldwin said she worries about burnout for her retirement-age members, with some 20 weekly phone calls coming in. For her, recruiting younger volunteers who are young adults and even teenagers involved in religious education would be a success. The work can be manageable by tapping into projects that require only a day of service a month, Baldwin said.  

“It makes you grateful, thankful and makes you humble that you’ve been blessed as much as you have been,” she said. “It gives you that opportunity to be those hands and feet (of Jesus).”