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Poor seek ‘to be seen and heard,’ Marin SVdP deputy director says
December 5th, 2016
By Tom Burke

“While people approach us with many different needs, often the greatest need is to really be seen and heard, and just treated as a human being,” Suzanne Walker, deputy director of St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County, told me via email. “We are not in a hurry to get to the next person; we sit with each person for just as long as the conversation takes.”

As we ramp up to Christmas, Suzanne and I discussed SVdP’s outreach to the poor during the holidays and beyond. Suzanne has been with SVdP for 15 years, three as deputy director.

She called the work “heartbreaking, uplifting, challenging and rewarding” and said every day brings “the opportunity to transform lives.” For Suzanne “helping others is a deeply spiritual act” and she is “honored to be able to come to work and do this work every day alongside others who feel the same way. The society has been a stabilizing force for Marin households since we started doing home visits here in 1946.”

Principal among SVdP’s work is “preventing homelessness” in ways as varied as “helping a family pay their rent to avoid eviction or helping homeless people find another place to live,” Suzanne said. In addition Vincentians “work tirelessly to ensure that no one in Marin County should ever go hungry, not even for a day.” SVdP’s Free Dining Room is open every day and serves 200,000 meals every year. “Hunger never takes a day off,” Suzanne said.

“I think living in poverty is a pressure that never goes away,” Suzanne said, noting it brings a “great deal of stress” daily to those trying to keep a roof over their and their children’s heads and food on the table. Children make up a third of SVdP’s clients.

Challenges are many and growing for the poor, Suzanne said. “When families are forced to spend the bulk of their income on rent, it becomes very difficult to be self-sufficient and to thrive. At the society we meet these struggling people exactly where they are every day, and do what we can to help them move forward from crisis, have enough to eat and a roof over their head.”

Suzanne said the SVdP mission depends greatly on the wider community. “We couldn’t do this work without their support,” she said. Ways to help include cash contributions, volunteering, donating supplies for the holidays and daily needs, making bag lunches for the Free Dining Room. Contact Alex Lyon at; (415) 454-3303, ext. 18.

On Dec. 24, Santa Claus will visit the dining room and distribute small gifts to diners during regular meal service. On Christmas Day, there will be a Christmas luncheon at 11 a.m. All in need of a free holiday meal and fellowship are welcome.

The Free Dining Room is open every day of the year from 6:30 a.m.-1p.m., 820 B St., San Rafael, with breakfast served until 10 a.m. and a hot midday meal from 11-1p.m. Guests can go back for “seconds” or request a “to go” meal too the SVdP website said.

Email items and electronic pictures – jpegs at no less than 300 dpi to or mail to Street, One Peter Yorke Way, San Francisco 94109. Include a follow-up phone number. Street is toll-free. My phone number is (415) 614-5634.

From December 8, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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