The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store has gained in popularity throughout the area since it expanded into its building at 126 Dodge Drive in 2014, and so has the society’s mission.
That mission is much more than most people are aware of, however, which is something Ben Nelson is working to change. Nelson took over the management of the store in December 2016.
“People talk about us as being a well-kept secret, and what I’m trying to do is promote it as much as I can in the community,” Nelson said. “We’re here and we serve all people. Lots of times, there’s this thought that we serve one particular denomination, but all denominations volunteer here and our mission is toward the entire community of Dodge County. That’s what separates us from organizations that serve a single town. We serve the whole county.
“We partner with a lot of different organizations; from Bright Futures that brings in young people to learn life skills, to back-to-work programs, to giving people community service hours. We partner with lots of different people.”
Many might know only of the Dodge County Food Pantry, which is operated out of the facility. That is only a small part of the overall mission, however, as proven by two recent apartment building fires and ongoing efforts to help those in need.
“Our store gives us opportunities to help people in lots of different ways,” Nelson said. “After the fires, people had nothing and we went down there and gave them vouchers, got them up to the store and provided them with three or four sets of clothing so they could get back to their lives. There was actually a lady that suffered losses in both fires, and it broke my heart to see her back again.”
There are many different parts to the organization, including a council with members from four area conferences. There is the Sacred Heart Conference for Horicon; the St. Katherine Drexel Conference for Beaver Dam and Fox Lake; the St. Mary’s/St. Andrew’s Conference for Mayville, LeRoy, Theresa and Lomira; and the Tri Parish Conference of Elba, Reeseville, Clyman and Lowell.
“The council operates the store and the food pantry, and anyone not covered by a conference is picked up by the store,” Nelson said. “The different conferences raise their own money to help with energy assistance, to help with rent. If they are running short because they have more need one month than another, the store here will fund that conference so they have enough money to help as many people as they can.”
As part of the “Vincentian Process,” members go out to meet with families, do a home visit, see what their needs are and help address those needs.
“They may find that a child is sleeping on the floor or on an air mattress,” Nelson said. “One of the reasons we have new mattresses at the store is not only to sell to customers, but to offer to families that need them as well. We also look at whether they have something in their kitchens, something in their living rooms.
“We take care of basic needs, whether it means providing them with a table and chairs, or whether they have anything to cook with. We can provide things right off the floor, so people to pick out what they need which gives them more dignity than just doling out ‘leftovers.’ We let them purchase (through vouchers) what we consider good enough to put out on the floor. They’re getting good quality merchandise.”
The visits help determine pressing needs, so those being helped cannot use the vouchers to purchase Halloween decorations, for example. Monetary assistance also is provided.
“Maybe we’ll talk to a landlord and if they can’t pay all their rent, we’ll cover the other half,” Nelson said. “The process is to help them along — to try to help them become sustainable.”
That includes sharing other community resources available through Dodge County, the Salvation Army or other agencies.
“We want to make sure they’re fully taken care of until they’re back on their feet,” Nelson said. “We treat them with dignity and respect throughout that process.”
People are referred to St. Vincent’s by word of mouth.
“We’re trying to get that out in the community as much as possible,” Nelson said. “A lot of people know what we’re for, but it never hurts to reach those who have no idea.”