WAUPACA — Assisting neighbors in need is what Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) volunteers do each time they visit a home.
On the western edge of the Green Bay Diocese, a handful of people do this work out of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Waupaca. They are there Monday and Thursday mornings, receiving referrals from St. Vincent de Paul’s district office in Appleton.
Dan and Mary Gengler are among the five volunteers from the St. Mary Magdalene Conference who represent Waupaca, Scandinavia and Iola. “We get humbled going on home visits,” Mary said.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Appleton partners with a number of Catholic parishes to provide this ministry. It helps people in Waupaca and Outagamie counties meet their basic needs.
“They want to see the face of Jesus in the poor. That’s their tagline,” Dan said of the national Catholic organization. Late last fall, he started joining Mary on home visits.
Mary became a home visit volunteer about four years ago after a representative from St. Vincent de Paul’s Appleton office spoke to the parish’s Social Justice Committee about its ministry. The St. Mary Magdalene Conference is a member of the Appleton district.
A Salvation Army representative in Waupaca refers those in need to St. Vincent de Paul. At the Appleton office, background information is gathered before a referral is made to the St. Mary Magdalene Conference. It is a documented process, Dan explained.
“The initial part of the visit is getting to know the person,” Dan said. The most comfortable place in most homes is around the kitchen table, and that is where Dan and Mary sit with those they visit. They help people map out their monthly expenses and income, he said.
“When we are listening to their stories, there is no reason to prejudge,” Mary said. She said people are out of work for a variety of reasons, including disabilities and substance abuse.
The Genglers use their faith and professional backgrounds to evaluate situations.
“We have a level we can commit to,” Mary said. They help people with rent, utilities, clothing and furniture.
“When we’re helping with rent or utilities, it is part, not the entire amount,” Dan said. That is because SVDP is focusing on making systemic change.
He said the only way to help people change their lifestyles and become more self-reliant is to ask that they also come up with some of their own money to meet their expenses.
Volunteers are also able to give people food, gas and furniture vouchers. The furniture vouchers are for St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift store in Appleton.
“When we’re in a house, we look around (and ask) ‘Where are you sleeping? Where are the children sleeping?’” Mary said. Dan said the people they see are in real need.
“We see genuine people who have come across hard times,” he said. “Maybe they lost a job. Maybe their funding source is gone.”
Mary said they are seeing more cases of senior citizens living on fixed incomes who have children and grandchildren living with them. They see single mothers who have children with disabilities. In many of those instances, the father figures have left.
“All we have to see is that they’re trying,” she said.
Home visits usually last about 45 minutes, and the Genglers pray with families before leaving. They first ask, “Do you believe in a superior being? Do you believe in somebody looking over you?”
“We haven’t found anyone who says ‘no,’” Mary said. On average, volunteers from St. Mary Magdalene’s conference make four to six home visits per month, she said.
Last Christmas, volunteers and the parish’s Social Justice Committee raised money to purchase gifts for the families on their referral sheets.
Local businesses donated gift cards and a grocery store donated turkeys. They helped eight to 10 families.
“It’s working with the corporal works of mercy, which our faith tells us we should be doing,” Mary said of this ministry.
Home visit volunteers offer encouragement, and the Genglers often see smiles of relief on the faces of those they assist.
“We’re not counselors and we all know that. We’re not social workers,” Mary said. “We are listening.”