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St. Vincent de Paul reaches out to elderly in need

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May 4, 2011

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — The 77-year-old woman was living alone in a tiny, virtually empty apartment without even a bed to sleep in. She barely had the resources for the necessities, let alone being able to afford furniture.

Fortunately, she received assistance from volunteers from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Cincinnati, when members of the conference at St. Dominic Parish in Delhi did a home visit and discovered her situation.


Using vouchers to “purchase” furniture from one of the organization’s thrift stores, the volunteers “immediately took her out and got her a chair and a bed,” said Liz Carter, SVDP’s executive director.


The organization’s home visits are a unique and meaningful aspect of its ministry to those in need. Members of its small staff and conference volunteers, primarily associated with Catholic parishes, respond to requests for help by making home visits to provide tangible assistance on a personal level. Such assistance can include emergency rent, utilities, food, clothing, household goods, transportation and referral services.


In the current difficult economy, Carter said situations like that of the elderly woman are all too common. “What we’re seeing with elderly clients is that their Social Security benefits are enough to keep a roof over their head, but what happens is that they don’t have enough left over for the basics, like food, medicine, clothing and beds. That’s where the requests from the elderly have been focused,” she said.


Because many of SVDP’s longtime volunteers are seniors themselves they can relate to the needs of the organization’s older clients and take helping them to heart, Carter said. “They have a heartfelt understanding of what it’s like to be that age. They can just see how isolated the elderly are and how often they feel like there’s no one they can turn to.”


As an example, Carter cited the case of an older gentleman who received assistance from the SVDP food pantry at St. William Church in Price Hill, one of the organization’s eight parish-based pantries in the Cincinnati area. Although the volunteers don’t typically deliver food, they decided to make an exception in this man’s case because of his physical condition.


They arrived at his home to find him on oxygen and having great difficult getting around. The freezer was empty, save for some ice, and there was nothing in the refrigerator but a liter of soda. The volunteers put away the groceries and spent some time visiting with him.


“Our volunteers help as much as they can but often walk away with worry on their hearts about what’s going to happen,” Carter said. “They realize we can’t offer a permanent solution for an elderly person with physical issues. He should be in a nursing home, but it’s unlikely to happen for him.”


She said SVDP does make referrals for the elderly to other agencies such as the Council on Aging and Pro Seniors Inc., but acknowledges that there still aren’t enough resources to insure that every senior has security and their basic needs are being met.


In addition to home visits, Carter said SVDP’s charitable pharmacy, which opened in 2006, has also been a way to assist the elderly poor. The pharmacy provides free, professional pharmaceutical care to those throughout Hamilton, Clermont, Warren and Butler counties who could not otherwise afford their prescription medications. As they use up their benefits and without family members to assist them, senior clients turn to the pharmacy to obtain the medication they need, she said.


Carter said the organization has not seen an appreciable difference in the number of elderly in need of its services in recent years, but one obvious trend has been the number of their senior clients who have assumed responsibility for raising grandchildren in the absence of parents who are unable or unwilling to care for them. As such, the seniors are in greater need of food and other basics. This is occurring at SVDP’s Edyth and Carl Lindner Choice Food Pantry in the West End, as well as at the parish-based food pantries, she said.


Kathy O’Malley, coordinator of the SVDP food pantry at the Church of the Resurrection in Bond Hill, which serves approximately 75-80 clients over the age of 60 on a monthly basis, said about half of them are grandparents caring for minor children. “That’s where we’ve seen an increase in the numbers,” said O’Malley.


The same holds truth across town at Holy Family Parish’s food pantry in Price Hill, according to Diana Penick, pantry manager for the past two-and-a-half years. “We see a lot more seniors caring for their grandchildren now, a lot more than when I first started. I’d say double the amount,” she said. “They seem very matter-of-fact about raising their grandchildren. It’s not a matter of ‘poor, pitiful me.’ They come in with their grandchildren in tow, and you can tell how much they love them.”


“The seniors in these situations really struggle,” Carter said. “Their Social Security doesn’t go up because they take the kids in. But I can’t help thinking about where the kids would be without them. They share what little they have and do their best to take care of the kids. They’re a perfect example for all of us, trusting that God will give them what they need to take care of those grandkids.”


O’Malley spoke of the joy and rewards of serving SVDP’s senior clients. “They wait for the hugs they know we’re going to give them,” she said. “Sometimes they appreciate the love and attention even more than the food.”

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