Church to sell 1,000 trees to help residents find food, shelter

Jose Salas was young when he got in with a bad crowd.

He lived on the streets in Washington County for five years, sleeping wherever he could find a place and finding momentary comfort through drugs.

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.

Now, he’s in with a new crowd.

Every weekday morning Salas volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul, a service organization with 4,600 branches nationwide dedicated to helping those in need. The St. Vincent de Paul St. Matthew Conference in Hillsboro serves an estimated 35 to 50 families every day, offering boxes of food and assistance with other basic needs like paying rent and utility bills.

That’s how Salas first came into St. Vincent de Paul in Hillsboro. “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, which is run by St. Matthew Catholic Church. On Mondays and Thursdays you can find him 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.

Tree sales for programs

Toward that end, volunteers will be helping St. Matthew with its third annual Christmas tree sale 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 needy people like Salas — a great help for an organization that relies on donations and volunteers.

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 5 cents per pound.

St. Vincent de Paul St. Matthew Conference relies entirely on volunteers, donations, and space and electricity costs provided by St. Matthew parish. There are no paid employees and all donated money goes directly to buying supplies to give away and keeping the program afloat.

They team up with other local churches, the Salvation Army, grocery stores and local businesses that donate food and supplies.

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.

Offering hope

Ron McDonald, 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.”

The kind of 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 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.”

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