“We all want to know that someone cares about us,” says R.B. Clark III, president of St. Anselm Parish conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Little Bit partner since 2017. When Clark and other parishioners visit with families referred to St. Vincent, he says their intent is to connect with them through service, spirituality and friendship. “As we help our neighbors in need, we hope to grow closer to each other in friendship.”
Clark sees members of St. Anselm – the most active parish serving the Society’s St. Louis Council, with the oldest president in 82-year-old Clark – as foot soldiers in a 175-year-old mission focused on social justice. A somewhat intricate network that spans the globe, he says the purpose is straightforward: “to build a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.”
The process for St. Vincent services begins with a referral from other parishes or agencies. Volunteers then make home visits (in pairs), meeting with families to help arrange assistance for utilities, housing, transportation, car repairs, prescription drugs and other needs. Clark says The Little Bit Foundation has become a major referral source and is an ideal relationship. “We don’t go into schools, so Little Bit and its school liaisons are the eyes and ears that help identify needs in student households,” he says, adding that nearly half of most recent referrals have come through Little Bit.
Last year, Clark and fellow parishioners at St. Anselm visited 465 homes, sitting with families to discuss their most pressing needs. “Mostly, we listen,” he says. “Sometimes all they need is someone with whom to share their burdens and who cares.” He recalls a multi-generational family from Africa living in a small apartment. “We had to communicate with the high school age kids in the family, since they were the only ones that spoke English. As we were talking, I noticed grandma starting to tear up. I believe compassion is a universal language.”
Sadly, through the pandemic St. Vincent has had to suspend home visits. “We can still connect through service, however, and provide the assurance that others care,” Clark says. “There’s a saying that I’ve always lived by: ‘You can’t control the cards you’re dealt, but you can control how you play them.’”