Saint Vincent de Paul Society Belgium

Saint Vincent de Paul Society

CATHOLIC ASSOCIATION OF LAYMEN SERVING THE POOR

Vincent de Paul
Frédéric Ozanam

The Saint Vincent de Paul Society

The mission of the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society, and the one for which it was initially created, is to seek out needy persons – without distinction of race or religion – and to bring them both moral support and concrete material aid. Who was Saint Vincent de Paul? What are the activities and the scope of the Saint-Vincent de Paul society today, more than 160 years after it was founded by Frédéric Ozanam? We hope that everything you discover here will make you feel more than ever the need and desire to be one of our supporters – if you are not one already.

Our focus of action :

We have many activities, geared to 4 main lines of action :

Aiding

Feeding, clothing and housing are of course important ways of providing aid. Still, in some special cases, there may be many more. In fact, new forms of aid may have to be innovated to cope with unexpected situations. It should also be stressed that moral support and accompaniment are essential in the long term. Even if the results are not directly visible or concrete to all.

Our way of helping

Attentive listening and encouragement

The needy are often the object of exclusion and suffer from it. Shame is added to this, which generally brings them to isolate themselves in their helplessness. As one homeless person put it: “you die of loneliness before you die of hunger”. In keeping with the spirit of the patron saint, the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society stresses going to meet the needy, offering to hear them attentively and respectfully, helping them morally to fight desperateness and depression. Visits to comfort families, the elderly, those who live alone or are ill, seem crucial to us.

Practical and administrative support

Many disadvantaged people are not aware of their rights and the social advantages that could benefit them. The Saint-Vincent de Paul Society advises them, guides them and often takes charge of the necessary administrative steps. Often, a detailed dialogue with a competent person leads to an accurate analysis of the situation, and a way of finding solutions to build a future. We also have centres specialised in mediating debts and a reception counter for asylum seekers with a specialised legal service.

Financial support in cases of urgent need

It is not rare for us to provide financial support directly. For example to pay for heating fuel, to contribute to urgent health care costs and defray contributions to the mutual society, etc. The purpose of financial aid is always to keep a situation from getting worse and even more expensive to solve subsequently, with the risk of its becoming irreversible.

What can you do ?

If you are patient and feel you can listen, reassure and encourage, don’t hesitate to become one of our volunteers and spend some of your time visiting distressed families and persons, particularly in hospitals and prisons. This is certainly one of the best possible ways to help, in a spirit of dialogue and sharing. Of course, financial donations are also very helpful, not only to meet our operating expenses for administrative questions, but also to enable us to provide financial support if necessary to those who desperately need it.
Yes, I participate

Feeding

Unlike what one might think, hunger still strikes in our comfortable little country. In our industrialised countries it has a particular aspect in that it is “invisible”. Many needy people do not look “undernourished”. In fact, their diet is insufficient, unhealthy and very irregular. Nutritional insecurity of disadvantaged people often starts them on a painful spiral: malnutrition makes them sick, more often and more seriously, forcing their families to spend their meager resources on health care. At times, some can no longer do the jobs that would bring an income they need so badly.

Our way of helping

Rigorous organisation

Food aid requires rigorous equipment and organisation from start to finish. The Saint-Vincent de Paul Society has several food warehouses equipped with cold storage or refrigerators for perishable goods. These warehouses – where many volunteers work – act as both a distribution centre and a warehouse for other smaller distribution centres.

Various sources of supply

The sources of supply can vary somewhat from one place to another. A large share of the food products come from the Belgian Food Bank Federation, in exchange for the payment of an annual contribution to cover operating costs (temporary storage, sorting, transport). We also receive donations both from the EU and small companies, shops or private individuals. But, because we are concerned with offering families the possibility of preparing balanced meals, the centres and conferences often make additional purchases.

Appropriate food packages

People who need food aid receive food packages at fixed intervals from the centre or conference that is most easily accessible to them. The composition of a package may vary somewhat from one conference or centre to another because we feel that our aid should be adapted to the differences in needs and in the “field” (number of foreigners, people in temporary difficulty or needing long-term assistance, etc.).

What can you do ?

Our operating costs, contributions, purchases… the cost of food aid absorbs a large part of the budget of the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society every year. But combating hunger that threatens the needy is a never-ending fight. To try to win it, the generosity of your donations is our best weapon. As a tradesman or producer in the food industry, of course you can also make donations in kind.
On behalf of all those who eat too rarely and too little, we thank you in advance for every meal they will take thanks to your donations.
Yes, I participate

Clothing

Providing aid in the form of clothing is a question that many understandably feel is specially associated with winter. It is indeed crucial to have a minimum of warm clothing and a good pair of shoes to be protected from cold and the moral and physical problems that accompany it. But being correctly dressed is a problem that goes well beyond winter. It directly affects the dignity of individuals, visibly in the eyes of all, and often promotes a form of discrimination and even reprobation. So it is very important for the needy to have clean, appropriate clothing in all seasons.

Our way of helping

Correct clothing, proposed respectfully

Like many charity organisations, the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society takes charge of collecting clothing on a systematic basis. When it comes to redistributing that clothing to the needy, we stress imperatively showing respect. Like in second-hand boutiques, we sort the clothing rigorously before offering it. The articles we propose are freshly washed and ironed, without any trace of wear, in a perfect state of cleanliness.

Clothing, a factor of social integration

We offer disadvantaged people a chance to choose their clothing (women, men and children). The articles are displayed on hangers or carefully folded on the shelves. Several of our centres and conferences have premises for the purpose open at fixed hours. For the needy, enjoying the clothes they are wearing is a way to improve their self-image and to make them want to take care of themselves, which is bound to facilitate their social integration.

Having the possibility to care for personal effects

This scheme is far from widespread but we would like to give the needy access to washing machines free of charge or at a reduced price to care for their clothes and linen. This aspect helps promote their responsibility with regard to themselves and gives them an opportunity to recover the principles of hygiene, which again facilitates their (re)integration in society.

What can you do ?

There are two ways of supporting us in the clothing sector:

First, of course, every season you can give us the clean clothing in good condition that you no longer wear. Secondly, we need financial resources to be able to purchase items that are hard to find second hand at the right size, particularly when there may be an urgent need for them. For example, shoes for children who change sizes rapidly. In other words, your financial donations are always welcome.
Yes, I participate

Housing

Low-income families have enormous problems finding lodgings. In large towns, where rents are so high, lodging can cost as much as two-thirds of the household income and not leave enough for subsistence. So a common cycle begins: a few monthsí unpaid rent and the family is evicted. A household without a roof must cope with serious problems because most shelters are organised for single people or women with children, rather than for families. And for the good of the children, the authorities must sometimes separate members of the family, at the expense of its cohesion and bonds of affection. The situation can be painful and the effects are at times irreversible.

Our way of helping

Temporary lodgings to pull things back together

The helplessness of homeless families has driven the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society to develop a new approach to the housing problem and to create temporary lodgings for them. As the expression indicates, this is housing to give a family in a crisis an opportunity to pull things back together and find social or other permanent housing. Under these circumstances, residence is limited to 6 months, with a possibility of renewal if necessary.

Attentive social accompaniment

When poor people threatened with eviction ask us for help, we offer them social accompaniment and eventually try to negotiate new terms with the landlord, to propose partial payment of back rent, or to find a bed in a shelter. These solutions may prove relatively ineffective in the long run in cases where this simply postpones the problem. The objective of the temporary lodgings is to take advantage of the respite offered to find a long-term solution and take all administrative steps to help the families and to invoke their rights.

A guarantee for a new start

Temporary lodgings are made available to families for a minimal rent, not exceeding one-third of their income, giving them an opportunity to recover financially. The rent covers the cost of insurance, property tax and maintenance. When a family leaves the temporary lodging, rest of the amount paid for rent is used to pay the guarantee required for a new lodging in order to get a new start.

What can you do ?

How can the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society provide temporary lodgings to families in a crisis? From time to time, houses are bequeathed to us and we renovate them – or generous landlords make a building available to us. Of course, without forgetting bequests and donations that we receive, sometimes with instructions to use them for a particular purpose (housing for the elderly or other). This gives you an idea of how you can help given your resources.
Yes, I participate