Perhaps because I have recently released custody of 2016, I continue to think in terms of “last” things or sayings about “last” — I heard a mother tell her 2-year-old that he was “standing” on her last nerve. While I had never heard that said before, I knew exactly what she meant. We’ve had many movies with the word “last” in the titles, and on the eve of this issue, I had a chance to see what “the last stop” is for far too many people everywhere, including in this diocese.
Many parishes do wonderful work in their communities to alleviate hunger and provide for people in need, donating goods, services and their own hard-earned cash to fund a last stop for folks.
Researching a future story, I followed Pat Hogrebe (executive director of the Belleville/East St. Louis council) around for a short time on Monday of this week. By the time she answered some of the many questions people had for her at the St. Vincent de Paul Store and Cosgrove’s Kitchen in East St. Louis, I was stunned by the number and scope of the questions, as I watched. People living on the edge of disaster have so many problems, the list seems endless, and life can be complicated for those in need. Some can’t get jobs because they have no Social Security cards. They don’t have the cards because they have no birth certificates, and the list goes on. St. Vincent de Paul steps in with volunteers to help them fill out forms and retrieve documents they would not be able to get on their own. Then, some folks are stranded in the area for a multitude of reasons, but they want to go home. They have no money, no transportation, no relatives with deep pockets to send them a ticket to make their journey. St. Vincent de Paul pulls together money to get a bus ticket so someone can go home.
It’s an endless stream of needs, not wants, that plays out all day every day through the council office. To say it’s overwhelming doesn’t begin to describe the organized chaos that is managed there. Parishes also manage to assist so many people in similar circumstances in their individual conferences with donations from parishioners and others who want to make a difference.
While it seemed frustrating and almost depressing, Pat gave a resounding “no” to my observation. St. Vincent de Paul volunteers try to keep people from reaching that “last stop” and are often successful, helping to find housing for the homeless, money to keep the electricity on, help with rent, or gas to get to work or bus tickets or whatever. They’re in the “uplifting” business, and they can give you chapter and verse on those successes.
So, in this first issue of 2017, I ask you to remember those agencies and people who keep the desperate and those in need from reaching that last stop, at the parish or the diocesan level. Many people do so much good, but they can only reach out if we take the time and some of our resources to make sure they don’t run out of options to be the “first stop” on the way to a better tomorrow.