By CHRISTOPHER ORLET
Cindy K. doesn’t mince words when it comes to her feelings for the Belleville Council of St. Vincent de Paul.
“I owe my life to St. Vincent de Paul,” she says.
Cindy (she asked that we not use her last name) was for many years a successful, highly ambitious woman with a good job, a nice house, a garage full of tools and a nice car.
“I was living the American dream,” she recalls.
Then, through no fault of her own, Cindy’s life took a sudden turn for the worse. Cindy suffered through three separate cancer diagnoses. Doctors prescribed opioids for the pain, and as is so often the case, she became addicted to the medication.
Like many people addicted to opioids, the drugs completely took over her life.
“I lost everything, my family, friends, my former self,” she says.
For years Cindy’s life consisted of a desperate routine of searching for a little food and a safe place to sleep for the night. One year, she slept in her car at the Flying J truck stop west of Belleville.
“Living on the street is an experience that will stay with me forever,” Cindy says.
Then one day Cindy just happened to walk into St. Vincent DePaul’s Cosgrove’s Kitchen on State Street in East St. Louis.
“I went in for a hot meal and that experience changed my life,” she says.
At St. Vincent DePaul, which is a recipient of funding from The Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal, Cindy met caring, dedicated and selfless people who saw in her not just someone down on her luck, but the face of Jesus.
Cindy met with Pat Hogrebe, executive director of St. Vincent DePaul, Belleville Council. “She took the time to talk to me,” Cindy says. “Pat sees the good in everyone and she sees the potential in everyone.”
With the help of the St. Vincent DePaul staff, Cindy saw the opportunity to turn her life around and start anew.
“St. Vincent DePaul fed me, clothed me and gave me the resources to pull myself up and off the street,” she says.
Cindy worked with—among others–Evelyn Weber, a longtime St. Vincent volunteer who was instrumental in helping Cindy re-engage with the workforce.
“Evelyn is our number one volunteer with the JOBSKILLS Program and has tons of experience,” Pat says.
Pat, Evelyn and others helped Cindy with bus tickets so that she could get her license renewed, helped get her car repaired, provided food to get her through some tough days, as well as clean clothes and shoes. They also arranged classes in money management and how to search for employment.
With the help of Pat Hogrebe and her dedicated volunteers, Cindy soon landed an internship with a local manufacturing company.
But even with all that help, getting her life back was no cakewalk for Cindy.
“Coming off the street I really had to prove myself and St. Vincent de Paul helped me every step of the way,” she says.
After a period of six months Cindy became a full-time employee of the company. Today, several years later, Cindy is a vital part of the company’s operation. She now works in a division of the company that breeds, raises, and trains show dogs. She says it is her dream job.
“Every day I thank Jesus for bringing me to St. Vincent de Paul, Pat Hogrebe and her wonderful volunteers,” she says.