YOUNGSTOWN St. Vincent de Paul charity struggles during tough times

The St. Vincent de Paul Society operates a soup kitchen, a food pantry and a thrift store.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The number of meals served by the St. Vincent de Paul Society is up, donations are down, and profits from its thrift store and Christmas show fund-raisers are not what they used to be.
"We need help," said Bill Dunlap, president of the Youngstown Diocese District Council that represents 27 parishes in Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society operates a soup kitchen on Front Street and a food pantry on Via Mount Carmel, which serve the entire district council, and are supported primarily by profits from the society's thrift store, 235 Wick Ave.; an annual Christmas show; and donations from Catholic Charities, member parishes and individuals.
The problem is, said Dunlap, that profits from the thrift store, which in the mid-1990s were between $70,000 and $80,000, have dwindled to between $15,000 and $20,000 for the past few years.
The thrift store is being hurt by the sagging economy, but also by increased competition from similar stores, Dunlap said.
Lay organization
St. Vincent de Paul gets some money from the Bishops Appeal Fund through Catholic Charities. But, Dunlap said, St. Vincent de Paul is a lay organization and is not under the direction of either Catholic Charities or the church.
Don Komara, vice president of the district council, said the soup kitchen, which operates Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, fed about 56,000 people in 2002. He said the kitchen carried a deficit of about $18,000 into 2003.
The kitchen is staffed by six to 10 volunteers from various parishes each day. The only paid staff are a cook at the kitchen and truck drivers who pick up items for the thrift store.
Anyone in any of the parishes who wants to use the food pantry can call the parish church and talk to a St. Vincent de Paul Society representative, who determines eligibility for the church food pantry as well as the main food pantry.
Getting food
They can get food from some of the parish food pantries, and a voucher for a box of food from the main pantry, which does the purchasing for the district council, Dunlap said. The referring parish is billed $15 for the cost of the box of food, Dunlap said.
In 2000, 3,644 vouchers were issued to feed 9,511 people; in 2001, 3,979 vouchers fed 10,872 people. The numbers for 2002, 3,423 vouchers and 9,631 people fed, were down because Catholic Charities ran out of money and stopped writing vouchers in September, Komara said.
Anyone who wants to donate food, money or items for the thrift store may call the store at (330) 746-5222 or the food pantry at (330) 746-1128.

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