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placeholder May 8, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Catholic Volunteers Tribute

Tables filled with supporters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County listen to stories of people who have been assisted by the agency. At the annual fundraising breakfast at the Event Center of the Cathedral of Christ the Light on April 28, the "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" theme was echoed by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ; Rev. Jayson Landeza, chaplain to the Oakland Police and Fire departments; and Blase Bova, the agency's executive director.

St. Vincent de Paul helps its neighbors, near and far

Rev. Jayson Landeza

Brenda Cox

Blase Bova

Neighbors helping neighbors can be literal: 22 women and children displaced by the March 27 fire on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland found shelter at nearby St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County. Add them to the 60 guests nightly at the winter shelter, which ran from November to April, and you get some idea of the hospitality extended.

The response to the fire demonstrates the nimble nature of St. Vincent de Paul. After a year of change, including restructuring of staff and the closing of its warehouse and store in Oakland, service to the poor continues to be the heart of its mission.

At its annual fundraising breakfast on April 28 at the Event Center of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, St. Vincent de Paul's emphasis on "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" was told through the personal stories of people who have been assisted by the agency.

"This is the place you go if you didn't get your dream the first time around," said Brenda Cox, a graduate of St. Vincent de Paul's Kitchen of Champions program. "You can come here and get it the second time around."

Cox became a mother at 16; she has been a single mother since the death of her children's father in 1999.

She had supported her two children as a teacher of autistic children in Alameda. When her daughter went off to college, Cox told the gathering, it was her time to pursue her dream of a career in the culinary arts. Tuition at culinary schools was beyond her reach. A friend gave her a flyer about the program at St. Vincent de Paul: eight weeks of free training.

Helping prepare the daily meal for the 700 guests at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room gave her confidence. She has been working in catering events at Levi's Stadium and Oracle Arena. A full-time career is within her reach.

In addition to job training programs, such as the Kitchen of Champions, and the free dining room, St. Vincent de Paul provides as drop-in center for women and children, complete with showers and laundry, and a separate center for men.

St, Vincent de Paul is "the merciful face of the church," Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, said in his invocation. He asked God to bless those who do the work in the Oakland center and in the parish conferences, and the graduates of the programs, asking God "to open the door before them, for the rest of their lives."

The work was recognized in a mayoral proclamation from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Rev. Jayson Landeza, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Oakland and chaplain to the Oakland Police and Fire departments, called St. Vincent de Paul's efforts "an extension of the church's mission to reach out to the most marginalized."

Executive Director Blase Bova said he was drawn to volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul in Arizona in 1997. "It looked and felt like pure heart," he said.

Twenty years later, he said, "the helpers, the helped, the structure, the energy and the pure heart" keep him there.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County
2272 San Pablo Ave.
Oakland 94612
"Our work can last generations," he said. What it takes to assist people can be modest, he said. The cost of avoiding an eviction, he said, "is often no more than $500." To feed 100 people in the dining room costs $200, he said.

In a video presentation, some people who have received assistance from St. Vincent de Paul expressed their gratitude.

Said one young man, dressed in chef's clothing: "It's the land of opportunity."

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