For nearly as long as the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Our Lady of Lourdes has been around, it has been under the leadership of Washington resident Norma Roth.
And though subtle changes have taken place, the mission has remained the same.
“We really want to help those who need help,” Roth said.
The organization provides help paying utility bills, rent, gas or unexpected bills that could prevent a person or family from getting the things they need.
Typically, when a person who needs help calls the parish, a staff member gets their contact number and gives it to Roth.
Roth, in turn, calls the person to set up an in-home visit.
In her earlier days, Roth would conduct home visits, but now she sticks mostly to fielding calls and setting up appointments, the number of which vary on a daily and weekly basis.
Other volunteers with the St. Vincent de Paul team will visit with the person at their home to better understand their need and to get a sense of the best way to help.
As a group, the St. Vincent de Paul Society decides if it can help and if so, how much it can help. There are about 15 members in the group.
Roth credits volunteers with keeping the organization going.
“I have worked with so many good, sincere people,” she said, “people who really want to help those who are down and out.”
For Roth, getting involved in the society was as simple as reading the parish bulletin.
In 1985, she read that the society was getting started and immediately thought it was something she would like to do. She had another commitment, though, and decided the timing wasn’t right.
Within the first year of the organization’s founding, the president, who was in poor health, approached her about taking over the position.
“I thought, ‘I can do it,’ ” she said. “It was something I wanted to do, and I saw a need.”
As Washington has grown, she said, so has the need. Sometimes, the group will get eight calls in a single day. Other days there may be fewer, or none.
As president of the group, Roth also is in charge of distributing the funds. While she may trust that there is a need, she is sure never to give money directly to those asking for it.
Instead, it’s given to a utility company, landlord or where the money is owed — and only after it has been verified that the person is due to be shut off from a utility, evicted from their home, and that they’re being honest about their situation.
“I know we’ve been taken before,” she said, “but the good outweighs the bad.”
For the most part, Roth said people are grateful. The organization also has become more aware of peoples’ needs and how to better handle any situations that may arise.
The society started small and continued growing, Roth said. In about 1990, a parish member suggested doing something for the families helped throughout the year during the holiday season. With that, The Giving Tree was born.
The Giving Tree
Families who have been helped by the OLL St. Vincent de Paul group are sent a letter at the beginning of November asking if they’re still in the same financial situation and if they could use help through the holiday season.
If the answer is yes, there is a space to write down clothing sizes and ages of children in the home.
Each child receives two toys and two clothing items. Each adult receives clothing as well.
“From some people, we get a letter back saying they feel that they don’t need help and that really makes us feel good,” Roth said.
Roth is sure to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to make it easy for families to return the information.
Once the letters are turned in, families are “coded” so no one knows to whom or where gifts are going. Items needed are listed on paper ornaments and hung on a tree at the parish.
Parishioners who are willing are asked to select an ornament, purchase the item and return it to be distributed to the families before Christmas.
Some parish families, and even some who don’t attend the parish, decide to “adopt” a whole family — some even adopt two families.
No matter if they adopt a whole family or purchase a single item, Roth said she is appreciative that people continue to give.
“Parishioners are so wonderful, so generous and giving,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Roth said it means a lot to her that people trust the organization’s leadership.
The Sunday before Christmas, all of the gifts are wrapped and organized for families to pick up.
If the family doesn’t have transportation, they can make other arrangements, Roth noted.
The pickup is something she enjoys.
“It’s really special,” she said. “Every year we have someone who shows up in tears (because of the generosity).”
Those who wish to adopt a family may call the parish rectory, 636-239-3520.
Roth said she continues to enjoy working with people who feel the same way as she does.
“We’re all in this together,” she said.
Because the society runs on donations, Roth never knows how much the group will have to help others.
She continues to trust that everything will work out.
“There were times where our account would be getting low, and all of a sudden I’ll get a check in the mail. It’s overwhelming sometimes,” she said. “I really feel God has his hands in our work.”
Occasionally, if there is a bigger financial need, Roth said she will call other parishes with St. Vincent de Paul societies and ask them to “twin” on a donation. The other parishes are happy to help when possible.
“It’s such a good feeling that we all work together,” Roth said.
Roth noted that the organization is eligible to receive United Way funds, but has been fortunate enough not to need to make a request for funds in the past several years.
Other Volunteer Work
Despite spending time every day working on St. Vincent de Paul Society undertakings, Roth still manages to work parttime at Riechers Tire & Auto, Washington. She spends about six hours each day at the family business, where she has worked for the past 25 years.
She also volunteers in the gift shop at Mercy Hospital Washington and Encore Resale Shop, and brings Communion to shut-ins.
Recently, Roth was one of several local women to be honored by the St. Louis Archdiocese as a “Servant of the Poor.”
The award was presented during the 16th annual Catholic Women’s Award Celebration in August.
Awards were presented to women who serve the poor in extraordinary ways and who have chosen to live simply.
The model of the award is Mother Teresa.