Sterling’s St. Vincent de Paul Society Celebrates with Mass, Tour of Pantry
Sixty Years of Giving
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
October 4, 2018
STERLING—It’s a tall order to fill the needs of those who don’t have enough to eat, or enough funds to pay their utility bill, or to pay for a bus ticket to return home after a devastating hurricane in a far off state, but the volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Sterling/Rock Falls have been pulling out all the stops to help those in need for more than half a century — for 60 years in fact.
 
Thanks to donations, the food pantry has recently received a face lift with new carpeting, paint, foundation improvements, new refrigerators along with computer system upgrades, which help make the food pantry operate more  efficiently. 
 
“In the course of the last three months we’ve had about 80 new clients who have never come before,” said Ed Mulvaney, president of the local society.
 
“We’ve about 200 plus families a week. There is quite a big need.”
 
The society was started by a group of young students, led by Frederic Ozaman, in Paris in the 1830s. It is now serving the needy through donations in 140 countries around the world.
 
Bishop David Malloy celebrated Mass Sept 30 at St. Mary Church just across from the St. Vincent De Paul Society Food Pantry,  and lauded the work of some 40 volunteers  there who help collect and distribute food and  essential supplies for the needy through the food pantry.
 
In his homily, Bishop Malloy recalled the words of Jesus: “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.”
 
He also spoke about how the St. Vincent de Paul Society influenced him when he was young. There are many ways to help the organization, he said, by making donations, collecting items, shopping for the food pantry or serving at the facility.
 
During the Mass, a second collection was taken to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Sterling/Rock Falls as it celebrates its 60th anniversary.
 
Bishop Malloy also visited the St. Mary Parish School book fair, and said grace at a luncheon honoring the many St. Vincent de Paul volunteers that make the charity viable. 
 
The food pantry building, now owned by the parish, is located in what was once a “Mom and Pop” corner grocery store. Some of the more senior volunteers recall stopping in to buy bubble gum when they were children.
 
“We get a lot of donations. That’s how we run,” Mulvaney says. “It’s run entirely on donations. Nobody here is paid.
 
“We get volunteers from Sauk Valley Bank who donate some hours while they are being paid by the bank, and many didn’t even know the food pantry was here. Many of our volunteers didn’t know what happens here until they volunteered.”
 
He adds that, “Some people say we are the best kept secret in Sterling.”
 
Those in need likely are more aware than the general population of the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
 
“During the course of a year we average $2,400 a month in aid given out,” Mulvaney says. “We give out, on average, about $1,400 or $1,500 a month in items which we have purchased like peanut butter, milk, cheese, canned tuna, jelly, canned fruit, and ground turkey, through local stores and through the River Bend Food Bank. Our only (other) expenses are insurance and utility costs.”
 
Mulvaney notes the difficult situations some people face.
 
“It’s very rewarding because the people who come into us are many times so needy.  Some are laid off from work or on disability and may be embarrassed to come in and ask for help. For them it’s very depressing and it’s emotional.”
 
And the donations don’t always stretch far enough, Mulvaney says.
 
“Sometimes by the middle of the week the money (aid to the needy) is all gone. In September we ran out of money halfway through the month,” he says.
 
And the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society goes beyond food provisions, trying to address the various situations of individuals and families.
 
“We try to help individuals get needed things to help them get a job, get a GED, or if they have a job and need uniforms or steel-toed boots,” Mulvaney says. “If they’ve lost their driver’s license we can help, and we work with Sauk Valley College to (help them) get training to get a job.”
 
Mulvaney adds that the food pantry also works with other pantries like Tri County Opportunity Council and the Salvation Army. 
 
“When somebody comes in with a $500 utility bill, the $70 allotment per family doesn’t help very much,” Mulvaney says. “So they are referred to other agencies.”
 
The St. Vincent de Paul Society Food Pantry, at 7 W. 6th Street, Sterling, is open from noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on major holidays.  
 
Visitors will find friendly volunteers are ready to help and try to give compassionate assistance to anyone in need.