St. Vincent de Paul: Model of assistance not a handout but a hand up

June 12, 2013
Santa Paula News

“Clothe the naked and feed the hungry” is the motto of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which members of the Rotary Club were told offers services in Santa Paula.

David Fields, the nonprofit organization’s executive director, said the local service provider “overlaps with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” but recently had to close its Oxnard based thrift store.

The Society is an international, Catholic volunteer organization that serves the needy of any religious background free of charge. Fields said, “That’s our creed,” that all are able to receive services, regardless of religious affiliation. 

A compassionate college student, Frederic Ozanam, founded the organization in Paris, France in 1833. “There was a lot of confusion in Paris, a lot of poverty,” and Fields said Ozanam and his early volunteers visited the homes of those in need to ascertain what relief they most needed. “To help the ‘have nots’ the ‘haves’ got involved.” 

For more than 100 years Vincentian volunteers have served the suffering in Southern California. Fields said there are 46 million Americans who live in poverty with household-of-four incomes below $22,000 annually. In Los Angeles there are about 43,000 homeless on any given night. 

The organization helps the needy become self-sufficient by providing emotional and financial support, food, clothing, furniture, appliances, housing, and by connecting the disadvantaged to helpful resources in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The organization also helps prisoners with resettlement to avoid returning to criminal activity, with a remodeled home in Los Angeles that house more than 30 men. 

The St. Vincent de Paul Los Angeles thrift store, founded in 1917, is the largest in the area and generates about $6 million in revenue to support programs including hiring the poor. 

The Circle V Ranch across from Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara provides camping opportunities to more than 1,200 children each year, including those whose families are able to pay for the experience, which offers “a level playing field... and it’s a life altering experience,” said Fields. The facility is also available for rent - another source of revenue for the society.

The Cardinal Manning Center in Los Angeles’ Skid Row area services homeless men: “They have to do some buy-in with us,” said Fields. “We’re not a handout, but a hand up.”

In Los Angeles, “The distance between the haves and the have nots is a 10 minute walk.” A facility and programs are also available for women with children to enable them “to turn their lives around.”

Weekly in Santa Paula there is a food program held at St. Sebastian Church on 9th Street that serves up to 200 local families. The winter shelter recently closed, and Fields said there is a “changing model when it comes to homelessness,” including providing permanent housing.

And for others, getting a helping hand before they must leave their home makes the crucial difference: “We do the same thing that our founder did,” visiting homes and determining needs.

Fields said a new model applies to all Society of St. Vincent programs: “We’re offering not just help, but change and to give purpose” to those the organization serves. For more information about the organization including donations and volunteer opportunities, visit

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