Unions, volunteers give St. Vincent de Paul new life

Local unions, business owners and parishioners are giving their time and treasure to renovate the St. Vincent de Paul center in East St. Louis.

The building is getting a make-over to better accommodate the needs of the increasing number of people it serves, says Joe Hubbard, president of the St. Vincent de Paul board of directors.

The building formerly consisted of a thrift store and soup kitchen and a small help center where patrons could get help with ID’s, birth certificates, utilities, budgeting, dental and medical needs, resumes, and glasses. When completed by the new year, the updated facility will include an expanded kitchen/dining area with a walk-in cooler, a coffee bar, showers and a washer and dryer, a day center for the homeless and an expanded help center.

“Without an ID you can’t go into homeless shelters, or get bus passes or check into a motel or even go to a food pantry,” Executive Director Pat Hogrebe says.

The building, which serves people from all over St. Clair County and beyond, will also house an area where patrons can get clothing for job interviews. The entire building will be air- conditioned for the first time since it was purchased by St. Vincent de Paul in the 1980s.

“A lot of the plumbing, drywall and other labor is being done by the goodwill and charity of the local unions and people like John Holland, Bruce Holland (CEO of Holland Construction), and Dan Heuermann of St. Henry Parish in Belleville,” says Hogrebe.

Hogrebe says the expansion is needed because the ministry has changed over the years. “Today it is much more hands-on and there is a lot more outreach,” she says. “The need has grown exponentially, so we are trying to make the center more organized and efficient. We don’t make any money.” Renovating the existing building, therefore, was the most cost effective thing to do.

“Instead of building a new building God told us to stay here and renovate this one,” Hogrebe says.

The center serves between 180-200 persons a day for lunch, six days a week. On extreme weather days the center opens early so that people can warm up with coffee or cool down in the AC.

“A lot of the homeless have nowhere else to go,” says Hogrebe. “If we don’t feed them they don’t eat.”

Many of the people they see are mentally ill or the chronically poor and homeless. “At the end of the month when their food stamps are used up we are packed,” Hogrebe says. The center serves about 100,000 meals a year.

“They deserve the best, they deserve a facility that is first-rate.”

Hogrebe says they hope to hold an open house between Christmas and New Years Day.