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Society of St. Vincent de Paul comes to northern region

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Friday, June 26, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

SIDNEY DEANERY — Amid acres of farmland as far as the eye can see sits the German Catholic community of Ft. Loramie and its only church, St. Michael Parish. Its parishioners and neighbors have always helped one another during times of need.

Because the town hasn’t been immune to the effects of the economic downturn, parishioners have formed the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Newport/Ft. Loramie Conference, which serves the Newport-Ft. Loramie Pastoral Region, including the northwest corner of Shelby County.

St. Vincent de Paul Newport/Ft. Loramie Conference volunteers Velma Holdheide, left, Shirley Larger and Julia Wolf are committed to helping their neighbors in need. (Courtesy photo)

“I think everybody who is part of St. Vincent de Paul has Christianity at his or her core, and they’re willing to grow,” said Ann Bollheimer, the pastoral associate at St. Michael who helped form the new SVDP conference. “It’s not what we want, but what God wants. He wants us to walk with the poor.”

The group is comprised of parishioners from St. Michael and Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Newport. It was formed last November to provide outreach assistance to those in need — whether it’s help with paying rent or utility bills or providing emergency food.

The conference’s first response team receives phone calls from people seeking help. Parish volunteers then make home visits during which they offer spiritual counseling, lend a sympathetic ear and pray those who have requested help.

“I can’t stress enough that it’s all confidential. This is a very close-knit community of people,” said Amy Makemson, who is the secretary and spiritual advisor for the conference. “One team member said the experience was a hands-on type of ministry. You can pray with people.”

Shirley Larger, vice president of the conference, said their community, located 40 miles north of Dayton, is one where everyone knows each other. They are private about need, a result of stoic German roots.

“People don’t ask for help unless they need it,” she said.

Bollheimer said St. Michael parishioners acted on the idea of their pastor, Father Steven L. Shoup, who challenged them “to walk the walk” of Christ. The Newport/Ft. Loramie Conference was established through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Dayton District Council.

“Every need is different, every call is different. We’re still learning how to respond to people’s needs,” Bollheimer said.

Father Steven L. Shoup, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Ft. Loramie, speaks with Agape Distribution volunteers who operate the mobile pantry. (Courtesy photo)

St. Michael has also teamed with Agape Distribution, which operates a mobile food pantry. The pantry will visit St. Michael every third Saturday of the month from 2-4 p.m. Agape Distribution is a nonprofit agency that serves the economically disadvantaged and assists other agencies with products and supplies that help fulfill their mission to help alleviate poverty. The agency received a $40,000 donation to create a mobile pantry from Cargill, an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services.

When Agape officials heard about St. Michael’s efforts to serve people in need of emergency food and groceries in the area, they offered to add the parish to the list of monthly visits. St. Michael is one of 12 churches and community centers the mobile food pantry visits. According to John Geissler, director of Agape, it’s the only mobile food pantry in the county. He said the pantry will serve an average of 87 families in Shelby County.

Since the Newport/Ft. Loramie Conference was established, Makemson said they’ve received more donations than they can keep up with, including furniture and cars. Organizers said they are working to expand their services and accommodate people’s needs.

“When I do something, I receive so much more,” Larger said.

The program has an estimated 60 volunteers so far. Opportunities to participate can vary from being a financial contributor to being a non-Catholic volunteer. Others can become full, active volunteer who help provide direct services, spiritual counseling and prayer.

“The strongest advantage to living here is we’re centered on church and school. We’re in it together,” Bollheimer said.

For more information about the Newport/Ft. Loramie Conference, call 937-538-8947. To request membership information, send an email to [email protected].

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