assistance services. In New Mexico, St. Vincent de Paul has food pantries and/or thrift stores in Albuquerque, Belen, Estancia, Los Lunas,Santa Fe, Tucumcari, Mountainair,Las Cruces and Española.
In other parts of the country, St. Vincent de Paul is associated with direct service to the homeless community. I remember a poem I wrote in high school about homeless people on Camp Street in New Orleans forming a line to receive assistance at Ozanam Inn. The poem was lost, and I didn't think much about it until I recently browsed on the SSVP Web site and discovered that Ozanam Inn is a project of St. Vincent de Paul.
Recent Albuquerque Workshop
As I dug deeper through the St. Vincent de Paul Web site (as well as reviewed some e-mails I received in recent weeks), I discovered how narrow my view was of St. Vincent de Paul. The Vincentian organization is also deeply involved in advocacy and in actions to change the current economic system that perpetuates poverty. Volunteers around the country are given the opportunity not just to provide assistance to those in need, but also to stand in solidarity with the poor and to advocate for systemic changes. For example, St. Vincent de Paul volunteers in Albuquerque sponsored the Getting Ahead workshop to provide tools to its members and other interested persons in Albuquerque with tools to help empower low-income families and individuals in our community.
Here is one of the principles that participants learned a the three-part workshop.
"Poverty is relative and occurs in all races. Poverty is not caused
by just the decisions of the individual but also community conditions,
exploitation and political and economic structures. People in poverty
are problem solvers and work very hard daily to evade the tyranny of the
moment, that is, the chronically unstable environment where concrete
problems demand immediate concrete solutions."
Advocating for Change
But even the Getting Ahead is only a small step beyond charity. St. Vincent de Paul has formed its own advocacy arm called Voice of the Poor, which offers education and opportunities for advocacy. "The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is concerned not only with alleviating need but also with identifying those structures, societal and legislative, that cause and perpetuate poverty," the society says in its Web site.
"Serving as advocates for those living in poverty and representing them and their interests to our state and national legislators is a huge task," said the society. "We spearhead that effort through Capwiz©, an online system that allows members and supporters of the Society to reach out to lawmakers when there is legislative activity ― or lack of it ― that affects those living in poverty."
The society has put together a series of position papers related to several areas of advocacy. Here is its position on hunger.
Adequate food and safe drinking water to nourish the
body is a basic right that is essential to the dignity of the hum
an person and to life itself. No person should suffer. Food
assistance must work in conjunction with
any poverty reduc
Agricultural and trade practices must be based on the common
good. Government must se
riously expand the vision of
food, environment and farming policies beyond a single-dimen
sional national view to a global vision that takes into
account the welfare of local communities, especially those
living in hand-to-mouth subsistence economies. The impacts
on small family farms and local farmers in third world count
ries struggling simply to survive must be protected from
outside trade practices and other influences
that result in untold pain and suffering. Read Full Position Paper (draft)
And here are the Voice of the Poor positions on other topics, such as Homlessness, Restorative Justice (working with people who have been incarcerated), Health Care for the Poor, Immigration, Predatory Lending, Human Trafficking, Just Wages, Fair Wages, Education, and Affordable Housing
To keep up to date on actions, St.Vincent de Paul invites you to join the VOP mailing list.