Columbia organization continuing to serve during COVID-19

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COLUMBIA - Saint Vincent de Paul (SVDP) society hasn’t received many calls for help, which sounds like a good thing. However, they are worried what will happen once the state gets deeper into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saint Vincent de Paul society is linked to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Columbia. Their goal is to help people with rent and utilities. On an average day, they receive 20-30 calls a day. Once COVID-19 hit Mid-Missouri, their calls dwindled to 10-15. 

“All the church offices are closed,” Joanne Slama, President of Saint Vincent de Paul society of Columbia, said. “When people would call the office to get our help line number, they couldn’t get through.” 

To leverage that, Slama created a website for SVDP of Columbia to help people find them. 

“We have links there for people to apply for food stamp and unemployment,” Slama said. 

Once people call in, Volunteers at SVDP return their call and set up a home visit. But with COVID, this isn't an option. 

“Most of our volunteers are in that high risk category, so we can’t do home visits presently,” Slama said. “As the situation improves and things are not as dangerous, we are prepared to resume home visits to our neighbors in need.” 

Slama said volunteers will wear masks, along with doing outdoor home visits to make sure everyone stays safe. 

“If the client is open to it, we pray with them,” Slama said. “Many people feel like that is the most impactful part of the visit.”

One volunteer, Jean Wolinski, said knowing you are helping is the most impactful part of being a volunteer.

“You really see how appreciative these people are that we’re helping,” Wolinski said. “Sometimes the situation is so sad and you see how hard they’re working to better their situation.”

Currently, SVDP of Columbia has 30 volunteers. They'll need more to prepare for a higher increase in calls once churches start to open back up, but the good news is help is already on the way.

“Since COVID-19, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the kind of assistance we’re giving,” Slama said. 

One of the main goals of SVDP of Columbia is to help with rent and utilities. Slama says Columbia has the highest cost of living in the state. 

“The utilities companies are charging double deposits on utilities if you have the unfortunate experience of being behind on your bill and being disconnected in the past,” Slama said. “It’s very challenging for the poor to be able to afford rental property and utilities and still put food on the table.”

SVDP of Columbia wants the community to know they’re still ready and willing to help. 

“We are reassuring them and letting them know that somebody cares,” Wolinski said.

To reach SVDP of Columbia, call the help line at (573) 424-1022 or visit svdpcomo.org for more resources. 

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