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By Peggy Weber

On a rainy, autumn afternoon, several people were lined up on a basement stairwell at St. Mary’s Rectory in Westfield. They had appointments for the Food Pantry which is run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
They were early and eager. They also were nice to me and my videographer who were there to report on how the Annual Catholic Appeal helps the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
I admit I felt sorry for them and grateful that I could just go to the grocery store and select what our family needed for the cupboard.
However, I also was so impressed with how the organizers of the pantry treated each person there with great respect and dignity.
They did not hand them a bag of groceries and send them on their way. They offered them choices from the food available. They helped carry bags of groceries for people. They chatted about recipes and life.
This group, which is run totally by volunteers, really is making a difference in the lives of so many people.

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Volunteers from the local middle and high school talked with me about their work. One explained that she wants to earn a Girl Scout medal by increasing donations and targeting much-needed items like toilet paper and coffee.
One volunteer was excited because he had gotten a lot of meat at the Food Bank in Hadley for a very good price.
Joanne Miller, the president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society explained that they are trying to perform the Corporal Works of Mercy.
She noted: “The members of the St. Vince de Paul Society step in the crisis time and time again to help hundreds of families in Westfield. The financial expenses totaled $25,561, which does not include the thousands of bas of food given out at the Food Pantry. Each penny, each can, jar and box that was taken in was given back out with love, personal contact and a caring heart.

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The St. Vincent de Paul Society offers rental assistance, heating aid, outreach to Veterans at the Soldiers’ Home and local nursing homes and so much more.
They are carrying on a tradition that was started in France in 1831 when Blessed Frederic Ozanam was challenged to do good work. The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded and spread and began its legacy of caring in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri.

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However, on this cold and chilly day, those receiving bags of groceries probably did not know about this illustrious past. They were just grateful to receive help. And those sharing food with a smile were happy to give.
It really was a day I loved my work and my Catholic faith a lot.
For more information about the St. Vincent de Paul Society call the helpline at 568-5619.

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