The revamped St. Vincent de Paul group at Holy Family Cathedral is looking to expand its hands-on outreach to Anchorage’s most marginalized and suffering citizens.
Last year, two men who work with the national Society of St. Vincent de Paul came to Anchorage from Seattle and Phoenix to speak to cathedral parishioners about the Catholic charitable group’s work.
For Edward Cabarles, it was life changing.
“I heard the calling,” said the 17-year parishioner, who soon became president of the group at the cathedral.
“I’ve been a life-long Catholic, and this is the first time, the first charity I’ve ever been involved in. For me, it’s been a great move both personally and spiritually,” he said. “I realize being a Catholic is not just going to church.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Society is no stranger to Holy Family. It has been carrying out charitable work through the parish for decades, but had diminished in numbers and capacity and had lost its national affiliation.
That has all changed as the group has now grown to include about 10 active members along with another 10 contributing members.
Long-time member Kerry Whitney said her experiences serving with the St. Vincent de Paul group have deepened her faith over the years.
“We see the joy and hope in those we serve,” she said. “They are loved and they are important to us. They feel God’s love through us as we extend our hands in love and compassion — we look to see Christ in them.”
“They know we care about them, not their color, race, creed or financial situation — just them as they are,” Whitney added. “Most of them have already been turned away from all other agencies when they come to us for help. We are their last hope so to speak.”
Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Peter Diaz, whose order is part of the Vincentian family, is the spiritual director of the society in Anchorage. She attends the meetings at the cathedral on the first and third Mondays of the month, and often offers a reflection on the Gospels.
So what does the St. Vincent de Paul Society do? The cathedral, like every parish, receives many calls and walk-in requests for financial and charitable help. Cabarles said the parish secretary has the caller fill out a form, and then she alerts whoever is monitoring the St. Vincent de Paul cell phone, a duty which members take turns covering on a rotating system.
Upon hearing about a need the society directly calls whoever is requesting help and arranges a meeting in their home. If they’re homeless, or resist meeting at home, they’ll meet in a coffee shop or at the parish.
“We never just say, ‘Here’s the money, go away,’” Cabarles said. “That’s too easy. Instead, we try to listen to their voice.”
Part of that is making sure the needs are legitimate, he added. And the society will work with a utility company or a landlord to verify requests.
“We are not social workers or professionals,” Cabarles explained. “But sometimes we can help people find basic solutions they aren’t seeing.”
“Sometimes we can help people see the root of the issue,” he said, like talking with the person who couldn’t manage his rental payments but resisted moving from a three-bedroom to a two-bedroom. But other times, the lives they encounter are in shambles and the solutions few.
“Sometimes, all we can do is pray for and with someone, and offer a gift certificate for food,” he said.
But serving others in moments of crisis is both humbling and blessed, Whitney said.
“I have felt terrible sadness and pity as we have encountered the different situations,” she said.
Through the years Whitney has seen situations that arise from physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, death of loved ones and accidents that have left family members paralyzed.
“St. Vincent de Paul has been a light in their terrible darkness,” she said. “I am most honored and blessed to be a part of that light.”
The Anchorage group meets at 7 p.m. in the cathedral’s Parish Center on the first and third Mondays of the month. Visitors are encouraged to attend a meeting to learn more. For additional information, call 330-9637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org