Behind the front door of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown Kennesaw, there is so much more than used furniture, clothing and books. Inside are volunteers who bring hope and help to people at the end of their financial rope.
Heartwarming stories abound from the local branch of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP). From a woman whose desperate prayer miraculously was answered by a phone call from SVDP about financial assistance, to a boy who struggled socially received the special shoes he needed to play on the school team, to homebound neighbors who were provided with food or money for life-sustaining medications — each situation is met by volunteers seeking to give a helping hand to a neighbor.
SVDP has a rich history dating to 1833 in Paris, when young Frederic Ozanam met with fellow Catholic students to discuss societal matters of the day. At a public gathering, an audience member questioned him about how the church was working as a source for good. Unable to respond, Ozanam and his cohorts were motivated to take action, and they developed the Conference of Charity with the purpose of serving the poor. Members hit the streets of Paris, personally funding food, clothing, shelter, financial and spiritual support, tutoring and libraries for needy families and individuals.
Soon after, they changed the name to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in honor of their patron, a 17th century priest and apostle of charity. The foundation of their charitable work was personal visits to people in need. Today, the organization has 800,000 members serving in 155 countries across five continents.
The first meeting of SVDP in the United States took place in 1845, with Georgia’s first conference, as the local chapters are called, being instituted in 1914. The Georgia Council (www.svdpgeorgia.org) now has 72 conferences with 5,000 volunteers serving the needs of their neighbors in a state where 15% of its residents live in poverty, 52% of low-income renters are at risk of homelessness, and 14% of residents lack consistent access to food to sustain an active and healthy life. Through a network of volunteers, SVDP gave $19 million in assistance last year to 116,000 people on the verge of poverty and financial ruin.
The thrift store, which serves as the Kennesaw conference site, offers various means of support to neighbors in dire straits. Approximately 150 volunteers work wherever they’re needed — repairing donations, hanging garments, working the sales floor, operating the cash register, manning the food pantry or picking up donations. Volunteers come in all ages and stages, many wanting to bless others as they were blessed by the charity during their time of need. Some find companionship after losing a spouse. Some are students fulfilling educational requirements. On the front line, case workers are available to assess the needs of those who are seeking financial help due to a job loss, the death of a family member, an illness or a divorce.
Mark Mullaly, the store’s day manager and food pantry volunteer, shared how he was inspired by the outpouring of community support for his brother-in-law, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eager to bless others but short on time, Mullaly lost his job of 30 years, perhaps by divine intervention. That’s when he and his wife decided to start ringing the Salvation Army bells at Christmastime, and the rest is history. He has served in several volunteer capacities over the years and said he and his wife find great joy in volunteering.
Mullaly and Kennesaw conference President Chris Prangley are passionate about their work with SVDP and encourage others to become involved in serving their communities. Volunteers are needed for every facet of the operation. Strong backs and willing spirits are needed for furniture pickups twice a month. Those with computer and internet skills are welcome to share their expertise. Younger able-bodied people are needed to help move heavy items. Tasks that can be done while sitting, such as sorting jewelry and clothing, are a perfect way for someone who cannot stand for extended periods to receive a blessing.
Thrift store hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Donations of clothing, furniture and nonperishable food can be dropped off at the store at 2722 Summers St. Working automobiles are accepted and are life-changing for someone needing transportation. Checks made payable to St. Vincent de Paul can be mailed to 1618 Ben King Road, Kennesaw, GA 30152. Contributions of time and talent are welcome and needed. Proceeds from the thrift store also fund support provided by other members of the Kennesaw conference, including St. Catherine of Siena in Kennesaw, St. Clare in Acworth, St. Michael in Woodstock and Transfiguration in Marietta.
Connecting hurting hearts with helping hands began with the passionate pioneers in Paris almost 200 years ago. The mission continues today through The Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Community members who are interested in volunteering or donating items are encouraged to stop by the thrift store or contact a staff member at Svdp-Kennesaw@att.net or 770-910-1458.
– Vicki Davis, an Atlanta native, frequently visited her parents’ hometown of Acworth. She moved to the area 32 years ago with her husband and sons. Family is her focus; writing is her passion.