Jeff Johnson, a Vincentian in Superior’s Sacred Heart Conference and member of St. Anthony’s Parish in Superior, is one of a group of volunteers delivering food and other items to local families and individuals in need. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

The Sacred Heart Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which serves the greater Superior area, wants to assure the public that they remain “open for business.”
As many other area charities and agencies are closed during the coronavirus pandemic, local president Lynn Brice emphasized, “We are up and running.”

Although the Catholic Charities building – which houses their office space and free store – is closed to the public, the Superior Vincentians are as busy as ever. In March alone, they were contacted by 149 households and distributed more than $9,000. More than 30 homeless households have been placed in motels since March 1, many for a week or more and many with children.

“We want those needing assistance to know we are available,” Brice said. “We know the need remains consistent and will likely see an increase in need (both volume and kind) as the impact on individuals and families as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds.”

Brice also wants those who have donated or might consider offering financial assistance to know they are operating and open, “especially during the virus crisis.”

The Sacred Heart Conference, celebrating 20 years of service to the region in 2020, relies solely on donations. There is no store or other source of supplemental income, and all their work is done by volunteers.

During this time of pandemic, Superior’s St. Vincent de Paul Society is primarily concerned with providing shelter and sustenance for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 in addition to the homeless who might test positive. Their volunteers are collaborating on a daily basis with other charities and agencies in Superior, as well as with the city of Superior, and St. Louis and Douglas counties.

As a summary definition of the Vincentians, Brice said, “we are friends inspired by Gospel values to grow together in Christ through service to those in need.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 in France by Frederic Ozanam. It has expanded to 153 countries where more than 800,000 volunteers seek to fulfill Ozanam’s vision – following St. Vincent de Paul’s teachings to live the faith with compassion and humility, and embracing the world in a network of charity, compassion and generosity.

Brice explained that there are three pillars of the society: “Friendship, spiritual growth and service.”

She added that while the friendship and service are mainstay characteristics, “for most of us, it is a true calling.

“We share time, heart, energy and prayer in serving those in great need. It is an intimate thing for those we meet and for us that they allow us into their lives in very difficult times.”

“To see the face of Christ in all whom we meet and serve,” Brice said is the grounding principle of the Vincentian Rule. The society is set apart within the Catholic Church as it is the only rule in the church for lay persons.

“When we meet with our neighbors – individuals and families in the community,” Brice said, “We meet them with warmth and genuine concern; we listen to their stories, their worries, their hopes. There is no judgment. Our efforts are to assist those we meet to help them by meeting their immediate needs and as important, helping them see a path toward stability and security for themselves and their families.”

While they may not always provide material assistance, “We are with them. We always listen, pray together and provide support,” Brice affirmed.

Home visits are the cornerstone of the society’s ministry. However, with mandated social distancing, all visits are currently being conducted via conference call.

With a moratorium on evictions and utility disconnects, Brice noted that a significant number of the 149 households who contacted their organization for assistance in March came largely from those who are homeless.

“Shelters have been running full with waiting lists.  Even warming centers have had to turn away individuals for overnight stays,” she stated.

As they are placing individuals and families in motels, all have been given a bag of food – proffered through direct donations and the Forty Cans for Lent food collection.  Information about other area resources for food and transportation is also given.
Even when calls are received from outside their local service area, volunteers offer suggestions, resources and try to help the caller think through their circumstances and options.

Brice calls it “a miracle in itself,” that in the 20 years the Sacred Heart Conference has served Superior, donations have always come.

“God does provide. And those who donate know that we are good stewards. That the funds and material goods they donate are directly used to help those in great need,” Brice said.

During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the conference distributed $95,000 in direct assistance to individuals and families in need. They assisted 218 households with food, 339 households with housing, 77 households with utilities, and 260 households with transportation.

Society members had 982 visits with individual families in the community and volunteers provided 5,800 hours of service in visits, communications and coordination of the food shelf, clothing room and working annual events.

Through the end of March, halfway through their fiscal year, the Superior St. Vincent de Paul Society had already been contacted by more than 700 households and had distributed more than $41,000 in financial assistance.

Due to limited shelter availability and the onset of COVID-19, more than half of the monies distributed went to shelter the homeless in motels.

They reported receiving more than $72,000 in donations during that same period. It is estimated that 95-98 cents out of every dollar donated goes directly for basic needs.

During the mandated closures, the St. Vincent de Paul Society is unable to take donations of clothing, household items or furniture. Financial support may be sent directly to 1416 Cumming Ave., Superior, WI 54880.

To volunteer or to seek help for someone with immediate need, call 715-398-4039 or email .

A pancake breakfast and fundraiser are being planned for September to coincide with St. Vincent’s feast day.