Since 1845, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has worked to provide material and spiritual assistance to those who need it most. The director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Buffalo spoke about St. Vincent's Door, a fund the local society is creating with the goal of helping women and children who are now in transition and need help after surviving domestic violence or other hardships.
According to Mark Zirnheld, the society's executive director, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is in the process of trying to provide a fund that would serve as a resource for its members if they encounter people who are in immediate need of assistance, to help them make ends meet after leaving a bad situation.
"What we're finding out is a lot of people that we're doing home visits for are women in a transitional place: either they've been victims of abuse, or they're kind of on their own, and they don't have enough to get them through the month or set up a new place. Often times, they have children with them as well," Zirnheld said, noting members have limited resources. "What we're trying to do is have funds available for our members that, when they come across a situation like this, they're able to assist without hesitation."
The society is helping refugees who are moving in and setting up their households for the first time, as well as people who are working but need help to make it from paycheck to paycheck, and need some high-quality items such as furniture. They also help people in dire situations who, through no fault of their own, have lost their homes due to fire or unscrupulous landlords.
In many of these circumstances, the society has helped people who need to buy children a bed, or they have a child or children in foster care who need to have a bed and dresser before they can be released back to the parent. Zirnheld noted this would also help people who are victims of fire and need a deposit in order to get a new place to live if there are not services that are immediately available to help them.
"They get them started, and two months in, they're still trying to get their life back in order, and they just don't have enough to maybe pay the rent or pay a utility bill," Zirnheld added. "These are folks that get referred to our members in the different neighborhoods that they work in, and they have very limited resources at the parish. Sometimes they're not able to assist when clearly they know they'd like to, so what we're trying to do is be a resource to them so they don't have to make that decision solely based on money."
If a member encounters an emergency situation when a person needs a relatively large amount to pay a security deposit or pay that month's rent, the expenditure would drain the account.
"They're not going to do that, because then they won't have resources to help the other people coming to them," Zirnheld said. "Well, if we have that funding available, then they can draw that funding and be able to assist that woman, and/or her children without hesitation. We just have started it. We're in the fundraising part of it now, and we're hoping that we'll be able to really be full swing with it by July 1."
In order to prepare for the ability to provide this support, the St. Vincent de Paul Society has reached out to various foundations for help. The Maid of the Mist Corporation signed on as the charter supporter for the program, Zirnheld said, and provided some seed money to get the program off the ground. The society has also been reaching out to its members to inform them of the program and its availability.
"We're kind of in a process right now of trying to make the community aware of how they can support us with this, and go forward from there," Zirnheld continued. "We're traditionally known for physical goods assistance: furniture, clothing and things of that nature. We also provide food. What we're trying to do is bolster those services, strengthening what we're known for. We're not trying to recreate the wheel or step on anybody else's toes, because we know there are a lot of organizations out there that are doing good work, and they're doing it well and we'd like to collaborate them wherever possible."
Since the society already collaborates with several organizations, the goal is also to provide assistance and resources, out of the main headquarters, to help individual volunteers who may not have the resources to provide all of the assistance needed to help the people who come to them for help.
"We're trying to backstop them as they're trying to help people," Zirnheld explained, noting the society already provides clothing, furniture and food available to members for this purpose. "This is just an extension of that."
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.svdpwny.org or call 716-882-3360.