The St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry is filled with some wonderful people: retired couples, college students, parents with afternoons to spare. Another group of valuable volunteers are groups! Whether corporate teams, church groups, or clubs, if you have time to spare, your help will be greatly appreciated. Lisa is a longtime volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. She shares how she got involved, what she likes about volunteering and how her workplace supports us as well.
1. How did you first become involved with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison?
In 2016, I joined AprilAire. Within the first week, my manager encouraged me to join a team of employees volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. The great experience I had helping people shop the pantry and getting to know my coworkers was the first of what became many evenings volunteering over the years.
2. How long have you been volunteering?
I’ve been volunteering since 2016. I volunteered at the food pantry during the pre-COVID years when people shopped at the pantry and now as people drive through to pick up food.
3. What do you do as a volunteer?
I have helped carry boxes of cold items as well as bags of bread, fruits, and vegetables to cars but my favorite job has been directing traffic into the pantry. When we are loading food into cars we don’t usually get to interact with people driving through, but when directing traffic you get a smile as people are moving into the final stretch of the pick-up line and often a wave when they have their food and are heading home.
4. Are there any special days that stand out to you as a pantry volunteer?
In terms of group volunteering I’m told Thursdays are generally the busiest day of the week and time for the pantry. It isn’t unusual to have a line of cars going down the street. Before holidays the line can even wrap back around as people wait to pick up food.
5. What do you do when you’re not volunteering?
I am a marketer and have my dream job working for AprilAire in downtown Madison. I was first attracted to working at Aprilaire for two reasons. First, because I feel really good about what we do. Our mission is to make homes healthy. We offer families all the components of a Healthy Air System to improve the air they breathe in their homes. Second, because one of the company’s values is being a “good neighbor.” Making a difference in our community is engrained in the culture and is genuinely supported at every level of the organization.
6. Can you tell me about AprilAire’s involvement with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison and group volunteering?
AprilAire and our parent company, Research Product Corporation, have been long-term supporters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Madison. We provide two food pantry volunteers on Thursdays from 4:00- 6:00 pm, and periodically hold events for employees to donate personal care items for the food pantry or bedding, blankets, and other items to St. Vinny’s Thrift Stores. We also sponsor the annual Care Café fundraising event. In the past we donated backpacks filled with back-to-school supplies for families coming through the food pantry and this fall we are looking into a couple group volunteer events at Lacy Garden to help with the fall harvest and preparing the garden for next spring.
Join the volunteer team! Part-time, flexible positions are available on weekday mornings and afternoons – soon, Saturday mornings too! Visit /join-us/?selected_tab=volunteer-tab or contact Zoe Lavender, Volunteer Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 442-7200 x71 to help.
Spanish-speaking Catholics from several Madison-area parishes began working last fall to establish the first Hispanic Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Diocese of Madison. On April 24, the group adopted bylaws, elected a president, and chose the name, Conferencia Divina Misericordia, Divine Mercy Conference.
To be well-prepared home visitors serving neighbors in need, the new conference members attended a day-long training on April 22. They learned the history of the Society including its founding in 1833 and its spread to become the largest lay Catholic organization in the world.
These new members join more than 800,000 worldwide Society of St. Vincent de Paul members – organized in conferences – who help provide for the needs of neighbors coping with poverty. There are 18 parish-based conferences in Dane County.
In partnership with established conferences, members of Divine Mercy Conference will make home visits to Spanish-speaking neighbors throughout Madison and surrounding communities. They will assist neighbors in need by providing financial assistance, giving furniture and/or household goods vouchers, directing people to the St. Vincent de Paul — Madison Food Pantry and Charitable Pharmacy, or referring people to other assistive agencies. Most importantly, conference members will share the love of Christ with neighbors by offering a listening ear, kind support and their prayers.
“We are grateful to our newest members to have formed this conference,” Julie Bennett, CEO & Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison, said. “It will be a gift to Spanish-speaking neighbors to receive care and support from home-visiting members who speak their native language and share cultural traditions. We see growing needs in our community for essentials like food, clothing and medicine. The Divine Mercy Conference will allow us to serve people who speak Spanish with a higher level of dignity and respect. I am awed by their commitment – as I am for all our members who go to people in need to offer help and hope.”
The Divine Mercy Conference invites any Spanish-speaking volunteers who are interested in joining the conference to attend one of their monthly meetings. The conference meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church at 6:00 pm. For more information, please email Membership Director Gayle Westfahl at email@example.com.
Experts teach about systemic challenges
Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison gathered on April 22 to learn from a panel of experts about the challenges faced by people who are incarcerated and those who are re-entering the community after incarceration. Consisting of conference member volunteers, staff and panelists, the group discussed how they might help people individually within their parish conferences or whether the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison might consider developing a program of support.
Panel experts and discussion topics included:
- Retired Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney talked about the difference between jail and prison and the correlation between a mental health diagnosis and/or addiction and incarceration.
- Peter Moreno, Odyssey Beyond Bars Program Director, shared about the value and need for education for those who are incarcerated to promote successful re-entry.
- Leann Moberly, Correctional Field Supervisor, talked about the role of probation and parole to support re-entry and associated challenges.
- Captain Jason Mentzel and Sergeant Craig Bruesewitz from Oakhill Correctional Institution talked about the need for productive work experiences for incarcerated people and those re-entering the community to support their success.
- Cecilia Klingele, UW Law School Associate Professor and system reform advocate, talked about the disparities in the criminal justice system due to race, ethnicity and poverty. She also discussed the need for reform and advocacy for recognizing the humanity of those affected by the criminal justice system.
- Craig Sussex, advocate for reform and formerly incarcerated, talked about his experience of incarceration and what it takes to successfully re-enter the community.
After hearing from the panelists, participants engaged in small-group discussions about what they had learned, how they might help people, and barriers to becoming involved. Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Madison Associate Executive Director, Amy Overby, facilitated the training and gathered reflections from participants.
“Our conference member volunteers want to better understand the challenges faced by our neighbors leaving incarceration so that we can better walk alongside them. This discussion will guide further steps in this area to address the Vincentian question that shapes all our work “what must be done?” Amy Overby shared.
In tandem with efforts of the Diocese of Madison and other local agencies, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Madison will continue exploring challenges faced by people who are incarcerated and those re-entering the community.
The St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy dispenses prescriptions to Dane County adults who do not have health insurance. If you are passionate about helping people with their health, especially people who are underserved, then join the volunteer team! No medical or pharmaceutical experience is required to volunteer. Ready to help? Apply now or contact the pharmacy for more information.
Lend a hand:
Be the friendly face that greets our patients! This position involves answering phone calls, speaking with patients, and greeting them when they enter the pharmacy. Additionally, when patients visit the pharmacy, you will ring up their medications and help them select over-the-counter medications and products. You will use pharmacy software to access patient information, track and enter data. This position is ideal for outgoing, extroverted and eager individuals who want to connect with the community we serve.
In this position, you will help prepare medications for patients. This includes counting pills, scanning, filling and labeling bottles to be checked by the pharmacists. You may also do some light cleaning, restock vials, keep medications organized by looking through expiration dates, and put medications back into their correct place. While no pharmaceutical experience is necessary, you must be detail oriented in this role.
- If you are a pre-med or pharmacy student, or thinking of pursuing one of these paths, being a prescription filler is a great experience. For the opportunity to receive a letter of recommendation, you will need to put in 40+ hours and volunteer at least twice a month.
We are always looking for interpreters; particularly Spanish-speaking volunteers, as we have a large number of patients who speak Spanish. As an interpreter, you’ll help patients who might have questions regarding their medication or the pharmacy process. Interpretation may be done over the phone or in-person at the pharmacy.
A lifelong volunteer and health care professional, Kathy moved to Madison after nursing school. She spent the bulk of her working career in the NICU at St. Mary’s Hospital. She retired in 2013 and began volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy.
“I knew about the stores,” Kathy said. “I first started in the food pantry and volunteered there for about six months. Then someone told me there was a pharmacy downstairs. So, I came down and stopped going upstairs,” Kathy laughed.
Above and beyond volunteer service
When she began volunteering, Kathy was the “welcome window lady.” She checked patients into the pharmacy and confirmed their prescriptions were ready for pickup. She continues this role now with the curbside process and fields questions from people about the certification process or the pharmacy in general.
Kathy always goes above and beyond her duties as a volunteer. She sees a problem and works to fix it.
For example, she regularly answers calls from people interested in donating items to the pharmacy. For medications the pharmacy can accept, she supplies the needed information for folks to do so. For medical supplies, the pharmacy cannot accept she coordinates with a friend, Mary Dowling, at Sharing Resources Worldwide to donate supplies to medical missions in Honduras.
A while ago, Kathy noticed the supply of expired donated medicines that the pharmacy couldn’t use. Kathy worked out an agreement with Officer Barret R. Erwin at the UW-Madison Police Department to safely dispose of the medications. Thanks to Officer Barret, the station accepts and disposes of the medications for free rather than having the pharmacy pay to dispose of them.
“I just had this thought; UW Police isn’t too far away,” Kathy recalls. “Since we’re a nonprofit, they’ll take the medications for free. I collect the unused medications and coordinate a time to drop them off. If there’s a simple way to take care of something that’s not terribly out of my way, I can do that.”
The best aspects of volunteering
Kathy is grateful the pharmacy accommodates her flexible schedule and that she doesn’t have to find a substitute when she is sick or on vacation. She is grateful for expanding her network, and the best aspects of volunteer have been the people and patients.
“It’s the people. The people you get to know,” Kathy said. “The patients who know your name, especially when they came to the window. They have all been very nice and generous. We laugh a lot.”
“My idea of retirement is that you work or you volunteer at a place so you can expand the group of people that you know,” Kathy continued. “ You have to keep active in retirement. Find your niche and volunteer to share your skills. Find what you want to do and find where you can be helpful.”
A heart to help people
If the pharmacy didn’t exist, it would be a daily struggle for patients with diabetes to find regular medications and more people would end up in the Emergency Room, Kathy said. The care that the pharmacy volunteers and staff provide helps lower patients’ stress.
“I think St. Vincent de Paul is a good organization that works with people who need help,” Kathy said. “Everyone involved is committed to improving the community and helping others. All of the places I volunteer help people with low incomes.”
Besides her longtime commitment to the St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy Kathy has volunteered at Specialty Care Free Clinic in Madison since 2011. As the only free specialty clinic for uninsured patients in the state, the clinic sends numerous patients to the pharmacy for their prescriptions. She also volunteers at the Lacy Food Pantry Garden where she helps plant, grow and harvest produce for distribution at the pantry. She is an avid sewer and donates her handmade quilts to Open Doors for Refugees.
Join the volunteer team! Click here or contact Zoe Lavender, Volunteer Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 442-7200 x71 to help.
For Dan Millmann, volunteering has always been on his radar.
After retiring from a 37-year career as a CPA, he volunteers at several places throughout town: the Catholic Multicultural Center, Queen of Peace Parish, Madison Children’s Museum. He’s the president of Madison South Rotary and joined the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry team last fall.
“In my mind, I always knew that I would work and once I was done I would volunteer and give back,” Dan said.
Growing up in Wauwatosa, Dan’s father modeled volunteering. Dan also credits the Catholic education he received from kindergarten through high school for instilling the value of volunteering in him. He said it’s a shared mission to help our neighbors.
“Through high school, there was always something [volunteering] there,” Dan said. “My dad was active in the church and as a family, we would volunteer. It’s always been in my mind that you do things like that and I’m just wired that way.”
Volunteering is something Dan has modeled now for his kids, both graduating this year; one from high school, one from college. He acknowledges young adults and young professionals are often strained for time, as he was early in his career. Volunteering can fall down the priority list after raising a family, managing a home, or working full-time.
Yet, he’s impressed by the number of college students volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry today.
His awareness of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry began at his church on the west side of Madison and grew after a tour of the pantry several years ago. Looking for a volunteer opportunity close to home, he contacted the pantry and called to see how he could help. He didn’t have any specific idea what we wanted to do, how he could help, or all that was going on, but the staff put him right to work!
As a table loader now for the outdoor, drive-through pantry, Dan gets to do an active role and connect with new people. He values the camaraderie of a diverse volunteer team.
“I was looking for something to itch the social side of me and connect with people,” Dan said. “What I do now does both of those things. This gives me the opportunity to give back. It makes me feel productive and I get to talk with a bunch of interesting people I never would have met. We’re all people looking to give back and it’s fun to be a part of and associated with this group of people.”
Helping people get food
Dan is passionate about helping people get food. He found that volunteering at the pantry was a natural and organized way to do that.
“Access to food and food insecurity – covering basic needs for families – were some things that were important to me personally,” Dan said “So giving people what they need so they don’t go hungry and have access to food. I wanted to do whatever I could to help with that.”
The need for food is great, Dan continued, and it’s everywhere. Just about every town across the county has a small pantry of its own, he’s learned. The work of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and all of the pantries in the area is so important; they’re filling a huge need.
“I don’t know what we would do without pantries like this,” Dan said. “I can’t imagine a country like ours having people who didn’t want to take care of their community.”
Join the volunteer team! Click here or contact Zoe Lavender, Volunteer Coordinator, at email@example.com or (608) 442-7200 x71 to help.
Each week, hundreds of households turn to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry for food. In order for households to have fresh produce, meat, dairy, bakery items and more, we need your help. If you care about food security, helping your community and lending a hand to people in need, then join our volunteer team! Flexible volunteer positions are available on weekday mornings and afternoons. Weekend and part-time positions are available. Some volunteer positions in our food pantry require the ability to bend, lift and carry up to 20 lbs. at a time, but not all.
Volunteer Coordinator, Zoe Lavender, chatted with WMSN Local for You host, Aaron Carreno, on the joy of volunteering. Watch here: https://fox47.com/community/localforyou/volunteer-with-st-vincent-de-paul-madison-food-pantry
Lend a hand to:
Help on Saturdays — HIGH PRIORITY
In order to reopen our pantry on Saturdays, we need your help! Lend a hand to load food outside, stock tables, check-in pantry users, and package food.
Load food outside — HIGH PRIORITY
If you would prefer to work outside assisting with our drive-through food pantry, this would be the position for you! Your primary responsibility would be to load food into vehicles as they come through the drive-through. This does require a bit more lifting and carrying, the items will be about 15- 20 pounds. (We do need a weekly commitment for this specific volunteer duty).
Control drive-through traffic — HIGH PRIORITY
Have you always wanted to be a crossing guard? Is blaze yellow your color of choice? We have an opportunity you can’t miss! Join the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry volunteer team as a traffic controller. As the pantry gets busier, help cars navigate the line and keep everyone safe.
Pack food boxes
This position involves filling boxes or bags with canned and dry goods (between 15- 18 pounds). Package pantry staples, cooking supplies and nonperishable items. You will also stock and sort some food donations.
This position requires lifting and transporting cases of food. The cases can weigh up to 20 pounds, but many are not as heavy (between 10- 15 pounds). We have pallets of food stored in the back of the pantry and this job will entail taking a flat pushcart into the back and bringing up cases of canned and dry goods to stock the table that our food box packers are using to fill their boxes.
Sort and package food
We are in need of volunteers to assist with sorting food donations and packaging them into bags so they can be distributed outside in the drive-through. We are currently limited in morning availability however we are in need of volunteers for the afternoon shifts to help with a second round of bagging food once our pantry is in full swing for the day.
Fill online orders
We are in need of volunteers to help fill our online order requests. This job serves as a personal shopper. You’ll be given a list of items for an order and you’ll package them into bags and boxes accordingly. This will include various dry goods, dairy and frozen meat. Once the order is complete, you’ll label the orders and organize them onto shelves to await pickup.
The Feast of St. Isadore, patron saint of farmers, saw St. Vincent de Paul — Madison volunteers and staff come together for the annual blessing of Lacy Garden, a member of Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens.
Msgr. Larry Bakke led the blessing, which included a reminder from the book of Genesis that God has called us to be stewards of his creation. The gathered group prayed for a bountiful harvest to provide food for families coping with food insecurity in our community. Msgr. Bakke, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison, reflected that God’s work began in a garden and continued in a garden after Christ’s resurrection.
Tom Lacy, carrying on the tradition established by his late parents, invites volunteers to use 1.25 acres of the family farmland each year. In the garden’s 23rd year, planting began in early May, and harvesting will happen into October.
In a typical year, the Lacy Garden provides about 20,000 pounds of vegetables for distribution to people at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. Crops grown at the garden include asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, melons, squash and more.
This year, for the first time, a summer intern, Becks Gatewood, will learn and support the work of garden volunteers: individuals, families, corporate groups and youth group members. These workers are crucial to a successful harvest. Getting involved is rewarding. No previous gardening experience is necessary. Regular work sessions are held on Monday and Thursday evenings, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. You can find more information about the Lacy Garden and volunteer registration here.
What is a conference? Who are members? A brief history and overview of current service provided by St. Vincent de Paul member conferences in Dane County
In 1925, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul began serving in Madison at St. Bernard Catholic Church and Holy Redeemer Church. Each parish formed a conference of members dedicated to providing help to people in need. Ninety-seven years later, the Society continues to serve in Dane County with 18 member conferences which together make up the District Council of Madison. Today, each conference is located at a Catholic church.
“I wanted some hands-on work to help people, not just talking about helping people,” Ed Emmenegger, Blessed Sacrament (Madison) conference member, said, “It lets me put what’s in my heart into action.”
One way Society members provide relational care and support is by visiting people in their homes. A person in need calls for help and two conference members go to their home to hear their story and learn what assistance they need. “I like how respectful home visits are,” Jeanne Bauhs, Our Lady Queen of Peace (Madison) conference member, said, “We’re just showing someone that people care when they are down and out.” Often, the conference will help with rent, utility bills, or other financial needs, and direct that person to additional resources that may provide support, including the District Council and its programs of assistance.
In 1941, the church conferences established what is now the District Council, to operate larger programs than any conference could manage on its own. The “Special Works” of the District Council include all our programs and resources you know about today! These include our customer choice Food Pantry, Charitable Pharmacy for uninsured adults, housing programs for men, women and children, Vinny’s Lockers long-term goods storage, and our seven St. Vinny’s Thrift Stores. The District Council may also provide additional funds to help people whose needs exceed a conference’s ability to help.
“It’s great to have real assistance as part of an organization,” Mike Meehan, St. Thomas Aquinas (Madison) conference member, said, “We couldn’t do all this as an individual or a church, but we can do big things as part of a larger group.” Beyond home visits, conference members provide volunteer service at various St. Vincent de Paul — Madison events throughout the year, run food drives, help with our Recycle the Warmth blanket drive and more!
“I encourage others to get involved in whatever way they can,” Brenda Welhoefer, Saint Ann (Stoughton) conference member, said, “Even if you can’t be a home visitor, you can donate, you can raise money, you can volunteer, you can donate things you no longer need. It’s all done by local people for local people.”
Are you interested in becoming a member? Email Membership Director Gayle Westfahl at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alejandro Vergara serves as a current Charitable Pharmacy volunteer, Board of Directors member and long-time friend of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
His involvement and dedication to the organization is felt by clients, staff and fellow volunteers. As a Spanish interpreter, his communication with patients is essential. Alejandro remembers growing up in Columbia where his father was an active member in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. His father visited people struggling with poverty on the outskirts of town. He provided clothing and food vouchers, among other items. When Alejandro moved to Madison in 1992, he wanted to reconnect with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and found fellow Vincentians at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Middleton.
Alejandro dove deeper into the organization through his involvement on the Board of Directors and as a pharmacy volunteer. Speaking on his involvement with pharmacy patients, “It’s a relationship,” Alejandro said. “It is a chance to interact directly with people needing help. It is more than just giving medications.”
Since April 2017, Alejandro has volunteered over 590 hours in the Charitable Pharmacy!
“The reward I receive is unbelievable. I feel so good and want to inspire others to help. The more you give, the more you receive,” Alejandro said.
Alejandro remarks that the best way to encourage others is to look around you. While we are all accustomed to our routines, he suggests taking a moment to truly look at the people around you— your coworkers, the person behind you in the grocery store, your neighbor. “The first step in helping is recognizing your own talents and that you are so privileged to be able to share and give back,” Alejandro said.
We are extremely fortunate to have Alejandro as a volunteer and supporter!