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Meeting Rising Needs: St. Vincent De Paul provides outreach amid pandemic

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by John Stegeman

When much of the country shut down beginning in March over pandemic concerns, St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati (SVDP) ramped things up. The local charity that helps with everything from pharmacy needs to food and rent assistance, saw the need for its services increase as more and more people found themselves out of work.

“We anticipated the need for our services would increase dramatically and it did,” said Skip Tate, director of community relations for St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati. “We don’t anticipate a drop off, at least not for a significant period of time because the people who need our services will be the last to recover.”

Meeting the increased need came with a challenge. Because of the coronavirus, new safety measures and social distancing had to be implemented.

At SVDP’s food pantry, neighbors would normally walk the aisles selecting groceries for their families, but for now volunteers are prepackaging food based on family sizes. Those in need drive up to the door and pick up their food without making physical contact with anyone. Likewise, the charitable pharmacies SVDP operates are utilizing a drive-up/walk-up method.

Home visits for people seeking various types of assistance have become phone calls, and for a time SVDP’s seven thrift stores were forced to shut down. This led to the temporary layoff of nearly 300 employees in March, but the organization was able to extend payroll and insurance benefits for a while. When the stores reopened in mid-May, with social distancing in force, SVDP was able to offer everyone their job back.

“We have been able to maintain most all of our services throughout, modified, but still able to be maintained,” said Mike Dunn, executive director of SVDP Cincinnati. “From mid-March to the end of April demand really boomed.”

Though Ohio was coming out of coronavirus lockdown in May, Tate said the organization would move carefully before returning to pre-virus operations.

“We’re very sensitive to the fact that the number of people who come through our doors on a daily basis is a large number and we don’t want them to get sick while they’re coming to us,” he said.

St. Vincent de Paul relies on donations from individuals and corporations to serve people in need. While the lockdown restrictions have eased, the economic fallout could continue to keep demand for their services high for some time.

“We do think this is not unfortunately a sprint, this is probably more like a marathon,” Dunn said. “The longer it goes the more difficult it’s going to get collectively. We’re doing our best to be there for that.”

Dunn added that the greater Cincinnati community has always stepped up to help SVDP meet its need, and that is continuing today.

“It has been unbelievably heartwarming to see how the community has responded to us and, more importantly, for our neighbors,” he said. “It has been difficult, but all the while the community is stepping up to match that.”

To help in SVDP’s mission, the organization is asking for financial gifts, in-kind donations and even donations of personal protective equipment like facemasks for employees. To learn more, visit svdpcincinnati.org/News/How_You_Can_Help/.

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