By David Karas | Correspondent
When a family of six was displaced by an apartment fire, they found themselves in a new apartment that was completely empty – devoid of cherished possessions and even the most basic furniture that most take for granted.
But through the generosity and service of others, that family’s new apartment was soon furnished with two sets of bunk beds for their four sons, not to mention kitchen, living room and bedroom furnishings – all free of charge.
That scenario is poised to become more common throughout the Diocese of Trenton, thanks to the proven efforts and success of the St. Vincent de Paul conference in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, and the new diocesan furniture ministry it has inspired.
“It just seems like the right thing to do,” said Joseph Williams, diocesan president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. “If we have a body of people who wish to donate furniture to people in need, and if at the other end of the spectrum [people] who need furniture, why wouldn’t we be the catalyst?”
Vincent’s Legacy, as the new ministry will be called, was approved by the Trenton Council Board at its Nov. 28 meeting as an outreach designed to collect donated items and provide furniture and household goods to needy families. Williams said that the ministry should be functional by early 2017, and while the intention is to serve the entire Diocese, operations will focus at first on Monmouth and Ocean Counties in order to further test the concept before broader rollout.
“Many of our conferences throughout the Diocese often get calls from families that have furniture to donate, [but] since they are not set up, unfortunately they have been turning those offers down,” said Williams. On the other side of the equation, “we see families that desperately need furniture – there is obviously a need for this kind of ministry.”
The November approval of Vincent’s Legacy was the culmination of nearly a year of discussions – as well as the inspiration and leadership of St. Rose, Belmar, parishioner Margaret More.
In 2010, seeing plenty of usable furniture being discarded, as well as the potential to help those seeking gently used furniture, More launched Selective Seconds, a high-quality home décor and furniture store in Belmar selling new and gently used items. All furniture donations either go to needy families through St. Rose Parish’s St. Vincent de Paul conference or to the store, where the monies raised from sales directly benefit the working poor in the community through the parish’s conference.
It didn’t take long for the ministry to expand to the point that the influx of quality donations allowed for the St. Rose conference to extend assistance to the needy in other conference areas as well.
To date, the ministry has benefitted those in a number of parishes, including Christ the King, Long Branch; Holy Innocents, Neptune; Holy Spirit, Asbury Park; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Highlands; St. Agnes, Atlantic Highlands; St. Catherine of Sienna, Farmingdale; St. Dorothea, Eatontown; St. Gabriel, Marlboro; St. James, Red Bank; St. Luke, Toms River; St. Rose of Lima, Freehold; St. Anthony Claret, Lakewood; and St. Mark, Sea Girt.
As of July, 166 families had received free goods totaling more than $200,000 in value – and those figures have only grown since then.
As the number of donations and requests for donated furniture both increased, More began discussions with Williams on expanding the furniture outreach ministry to include other areas in the four-county Diocese.
She recalled the efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to help restore and furnish the homes of those affected by the storm, pointing to the daily struggles of so many across the Diocese.
“These people who are in need are having their own Sandys in their lives,” she said.
Following the council’s approval, a warehouse space in Wall was secured and is being prepared to serve as a hub to sort and keep donated goods to help fulfill requests that come in.
Moving forward, More envisions a similar process to what was in place in her St. Rose ministry. Donated items will continue to be screened prior to acceptance to ensure they are in good condition.
“We do not give away furniture to people in need that we would not put in our homes ourselves,” she said.
Those seeking items are also screened as they would for any St. Vincent de Paul support, and a home visit will be made to take measurements, identify what is needed, and spot the style and type of existing furniture and home décor – with the goal of matching as closely as possible the recipient’s existing items.
“[We] try to make their homes as best as we can,” she said. “When we leave, it is as good as it can get.”
With the ministry’s new expansion, More noted the growing need for support. In addition to funding for rent and overhead for the warehouse, and the need for a truck, they will also need a small army of consistent volunteers to keep the ministry going – including folks able to pick up and deliver items, sort donations in the warehouse, and keep records, among many other functions.
More predicts the number of impacted individuals and families to grow three- or four-fold with the ministry expansion.
“Throughout the entire Diocese, it could be even larger than that,” she said.
For more information, and to donate furniture or volunteer, call 609-557-SVDP (7837) or e-mail [email protected]. Those seeking assistance should contact their local St. Vincent de Paul conference; a complete listing of the 51 conferences can be found at www.svdptrenton.org.