Vinnies: the force that united for the poor

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

“United we stand; divided we fall” is often heard in relation to politics but its essence can embrace a wider range of activities.

One that follows here went to the core of producing a strong combination that will ultimately deliver help to people in need within a significant area of Sydney where such problems may not appear to be obvious to those who fail to immerse themselves in the task of reaching out to provide support to others.

What is called “the Shire” is the region in question and the unity came from members of the various parish groups within the St Vincent de Paul Society across the region who gathered to raise funds and enjoy the warm spirit of an evening boasting good food, friendship, and fine entertainment.

Nearly 300 people including members, their partners, friends and supporters came together at the Sutherland Entertainment Centre to part with a deal of cash that was additional to the contribution of extensive hours that so many devote to assisting people with problems in their neighbourhoods.

Those who were part of the organisation knew only too well how the apparent affluence of the area can mask some the grim realities faced by many residents in making ends meet – especially when their income source is reduced or shut down.

A short video outlined a story that unfortunately can affect people anywhere and at any time, regardless of the circumstances which they have previously enjoyed. The audience sat in silence as pictures alone told the story. Printed words and cartoon-style images outlined what can happen to ordinary families who are left without support.

It showed how life becomes difficult and family members increasingly stressed, placing significant strains on the marriage of a couple who previously had met the demands of raising their children but then found that the lifestyle changes including downsizing their accommodation, threatened the future of their relationship.

Help from the St Vincent de Paul Society ultimately relieved the stress, giving them an opportunity to begin the task of rebuilding both their surrounds and their marriage.
It wasn’t an unusual case; simply one that could happen anywhere including the region represented by that gathering of members. It was a typical of the cases they so often handle.

Outcomes are not always successful but at least some assistance can help to lighten heavy loads.

I was introduced to the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society when it was celebrating an important anniversary in the 1970s. With a television news crew in tow, I outlined the plight of a young family facing problems similar to those that were captured through the word picture in the Sutherland video presentation and the resulting publicity succeeded in generating a job offer for the household’s bread winner.

Enjoying the recent night in the Shire didn’t directly solve any problems like that one but it made the audience beyond the members increasingly aware of the outstanding work of those who serve with the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Wallets were opened and dollars flowed as balloons offering donated prizes were purchased; raffle tickets were sold; actual and silent auctions were conducted; and part of the admission charges were added to the tally.

Entertainment came in part from the excellent talents within the band of St Patrick’s College, Sutherland, fronted by a couple of outstanding student singers.

Frank Tierney of the Gymea conference of the Society drove the organisation of the evening which produced a profit of around $50,000 but many others were part of the force that united for the night to assist the poor, which is where St Vincent de Paul said that God was to be found.

“We ought to deal kindly with all, and to manifest those qualities which spring naturally from a heart tender and full of Christian charity; such as affability, love and humility” was another of the messages from the saint.

Words and examples from this 17th century French priest continue to inspire those who work to deliver the living face of Catholic charity and mercy to people who struggle amid others who enjoy more positive fortune, often in suburbs where lifestyles are described as being very comfortable.