If you are of a certain age then I would imagine whichever parish you grew up in and whatever school you attended you would know the answer to the above question. Indeed many of you like me may have grown up with the SVP. Until, let's say, 20 years ago you could have gone into any classroom in a Catholic school anywhere in the country and asked the above question and every hand in the classroom would have been raised. In the last three years developing the Mini Vinnie groups in the Leeds Diocese I discov ered this was not the case. Out of the 58 schools now commissioned I only received a correct answer in 6 of the schools. There are perhaps a number of reasons for this but the purpose of this article is not to debate these reasons but to refresh your understanding of the SVP and perhaps for others to introduce you to the SVP 2017.
The Society was founded in 1833 in France by Frederic Ozanam, as a practical response to extreme poverty experienced by those living in and around Paris at that time. This was the period Victor Hugo set his story â€˜Les Miserables' - the wretched ones. Frederic and some of his friends started to befriend those in need and provide them with practical help. The group took St. Vincent de Paul as their patron, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society was born. Later the work spread across France and continued to grow spreading across countries and continents. The formation of the Society was a Catholic response to the poverty which was endemic at the time. Today, the Society remains true to its Catholic ethos and takes the Gospel message of St. Matthew â€˜I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me, sick and you looked after me and in prison and you came to see me', as the foundation of its work.
Today the Society exists in 150 countries and has more than 800,000 members worldwide. The SVP is an international Christian voluntary organisation, providing direct practical assistance to anyone in need. Our main purpose is to offer the hand of friend- ship through befriending visits. Day by Day, 16,000 volunteers in England and Wales make over one million visits a year to people in need. The concept of â€˜in need' is broadly based, and our members provide help in a variety of ways to people of all col- ours, races, faiths and status.
From the 1930's almost every parish in Leeds had a much needed and very active SVP Conference. At this time, benefits were not available and there was little in the way of loans and financial assistance and the SVP was often the only support available to those in need.
At our Parish level our core work is giving friendship and support. Everyone at some point in time can have a difficult situation arise. The SVP are there to give a â€˜helping hand' by offering practical help. The aim is to help those who have approached the SVP to be as independent as possible: Our primary concern is to meet the immediate need and that the person helped is happier as a result of our visit or support.
Here are some of the things we do at Parish level:
- Visit the sick in hospital and at home
- Visit the elderly and housebound at home and help with shopping, making appointments and other necessary tasks
- Visits to families and support with food vouchers and cash to meet emergencies
- Transport people with mobility problems to church, hospital appointments, doctors, for their pension, chiropodist and hairdresser
- Provide furniture, white goods and specific items for individuals and families
- Provide financial support on a short term basis
- Financial support for decorating and home improvements
- Signpost people to other agencies with more specialised skills - quite often to St. Vincent support Centre on York Road
- Caravan holidays for needy families
- Support the annual Children's Camp, sending many from our Deanery
- Supporting at our SVP shops
- Working with Diocese of Leeds Justice and Peace Commission and Catholic Care to support Syrian refugees in Leeds
I hope this article has given you some understanding of our Society, of the work we do and why we do it.
SVP members are just ordinary people living in the Parish: we volunteer our time, a few hours a week, to undertake the SVP work. It is a long-standing, recognized and valued Catholic society and we want to see it flourish and not diminish. Would you like to help us to do this work within the Parish? We would welcome your company and the knowledge, skills, experience and maturity you would bring would be invaluable to strengthen our conference and help us to continue.