St. Vincent de Paul volunteers help needy residents find food, furniture and shelter

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Frank Lux wrestles a tree to the top of a car during St. Matthews tree sale, which raises money for several programs to help local residents in need. Last fall, when their pantry shelves were bare but hungry people were still coming to the storage shed on Elm Street for food, John Moore made an appeal to the parishioners of St. Anthony Catholic Church and the community for help.

Moore is president of the St. Vincent de Paul St. Anthony Conference in Forest Grove and supervises the food pantry that sits in a garage owned by the church. Every weekday, Moore and his team of volunteers pack food boxes that will end up in the hands of the hungry.

He made a vow to volunteer his time to St. Vincent de Paul — a service organization with 4,600 branches nationwide dedicated to helping those in need — after he agreed to deliver a bed for the St. Matthew Conference in Hillsboro about 15 years ago. He arrived to find 12 people living impoverished lives in cramped quarters in a downtown Forest Grove apartment.

“All they had was bare floor,” said Moore. “I said right then and there I was going to volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul when I retired.” He’s kept his promise, volunteering steadily for six years, all the while watching the need for the organization's services rise in the community.

One in 10 Washington County residents lives below the federal poverty line. Almost 19 percent of Forest Grove residents live below the federal poverty line, more than 5 percent higher than the state average, according to the United States Census Bureau.

“We feed a lot of people with our little pantry,” Moore said.

St. Vincent de Paul also offers assistance with other basic needs, such as paying rent and utility bills. The services the organization provides depend entirely on volunteers, donations and fundraisers. There are no paid employees, and all donated money goes directly to buying supplies to give away and keeping the program afloat.

The St. Anthony Conference, started in 1980, serves Forest Grove, Gaston and Gales Creek and helps about 16 families every day.

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The St. Matthew tree lot requires a lot of volunteers, including (from left to right) Ron and Rochelle MacDonald, Frank Lux and Nicholas and Dave Anderson.

Bad crowd

Moore got his start volunteering for St. Vincent de Paul at the St. Matthew Conference, where Jose Salas now spends a lot of his time. Salas got in with a bad crowd when he was young.

He lived on the streets in Washington County for five years, sleeping wherever he could find a place and finding momentary comfort through drug. But now he’s in with a new crowd.

Every weekday morning Salas volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul's St. Matthew Conference in Hillsboro, which serves an estimated 35 to 50 families every day.

That’s how Salas first got acquainted with the nonprofit. “They stepped up and helped me,” he said.

Later, after Salas enrolled in a sobriety program that required patients to complete community service hours, he remembered the place he went during one of his lowest points.

For the past three years he’s given back to the organization. On Mondays and Thursdays Salas can be found picking up and delivering furniture for those who have none. Other days, he’s in the food pantry at the Hertel Center, located across the street from the church, handing out canned goods, milk, eggs, snacks and personal care items. “I like to help people out and make things easier for them,” Salas said.

Toward that end, volunteers will be helping St. Matthew with its third annual Christmas tree sale this month as a fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul. Last year, the sale brought in about $10,000, which provided 200,000 pounds of food to the needy.

Frank and Trish Lux, St. Matthew parishioners, came up with the idea to hold a Christmas tree sale three years ago, and it’s been growing ever since. Alan Jesse, who operates a farm south of town, donated 1,000 Christmas trees to the sale last year and 500 this year so far.

“We had the trees and St. Vincent de Paul needed a revenue source,” said Frank Lux. “It’s been growing pretty good.”

Now, donations from local tree growers stock the fenced lot on the school’s fields, and volunteers stand ready to help sell trees for a few hours after school and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekends.

This year, their goal is to sell 1,000 trees. The money will buy food, mostly from the Oregon Food Bank, which offers most foods to St. Vincent de Paul for five cents per pound.

Ron McDonald, St. Matthew conference president, said the tree sale is a huge support for St. Vincent de Paul; it helps them “feed the hungry and help the poor. Helping other people — that’s what we do. We never turn anyone away. It’s non-prejudice and non-judgmental. That’s why we’ve lasted since 1833. We don’t preach to you, we just offer hope.”

That hope that offered Salas a fresh start helping those who are in a position he knows well. “People who know me from the streets come into St. Vincent de Paul,” said Salas, who is fluent in Spanish. “I talk to them about my new life.”

That new life includes his new crowd, which he credits for keeping him clean and sober.

“It is like one big family here. If it looks like I am having a bad day, someone here asks me how I am doing and offers to talk,” he said. “A large part of my recovery has been because of my fellow volunteers here. I am working in a good environment where I feel comfortable.”

For Moore, the New Year will only provide more opportunities to serve.

He has a lot of goals for the future, including expanding the St. Anthony pantry and letting people seeking assistance choose their own food, which he thinks will be possible in the next few years.

After Moore made his appeal last fall, the word spread and help came — from individuals, Pacific University, the local schools, other local service organizations, the Boy Scouts and other churches. “The whole community just kept giving and giving and giving.” Moore said. “I was blown away. It just really impressed me. It just kept coming.”

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