||The Roundy's Foundation donated 20,616 pounds of food, worth $18,790, to the new St. Vincent de Paul center. (Catholic Herald photo by Kat Wagner)
MADISON -- Amid the continued gloom of the economic downturn and in answer to the growing need in the Madison area, the District Council of Madison-Society of St. Vincent de Paul held the grand opening of its new Center for Vincentian Charity on Madison's south side -- the culmination of the project to "Help Build Hope."
An open house was held on May 31 to allow the general public a glimpse of the newly completed center. On May 28, a celebration and dedication were held in the recently completed warehouse area, in addition to a breakfast for members and volunteers.
The grand opening featured remarks by Jeff Hausmann, co-chair of the Capital Campaign; Joseph Flannigan, national president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; and Ralph Middlecamp, executive director of the District Council of Madison. Msgr. Daniel T. Ganshert, vicar general of the Diocese of Madison, gave remarks and blessed the new building and the many volunteers, members, and supporters of the organization's effort to serve the community.
Features of the new center
Though the center has been open and serving people in need since early February, the second phase of construction on the 24,000-square-foot building was only recently completed.
The highlight of the center's new larger and more efficient structure is the wide-aisled customer-choice food pantry, which serves an average of 90 Dane County families daily, five days a week. In addition, a comfortable waiting room and a more privacy-oriented client-interaction area help aid the effort to treat all who come in need with a dignity consistent with the Catholic values the society espouses.
The center also now has generous warehouse and dock space to maintain stores of food as the demand increases, office space for the local administrative personnel and the society's other service programs, and room to grow.
At present, a series of paintings by local artist Nan Griffin is displayed in the basement of the building, which is expected to be used primarily for seasonal programs. The series of oil paintings of poor and homeless people Griffin had met is a reminder of the importance of the mission of the society and those who volunteer.
"Some of the artwork in various corners of the building is a way for volunteers and society members to remember the words of the great St. Vincent and the words of Frederick Ozanam, our founder, and to, almost on a daily basis, be reminded of their vocation to serve," said Ed Emmeneger, president of the society's District Council of Madison.
"I can't begin to tell you -- the folks that are part of the society have an excellent way to live out their baptism," Emmeneger said. "They have contact with the poor on a day-to-day basis, to be able to help them. The divine mission of the society is to grow spiritually by helping people. Hopefully they can find Christ in a very powerful way."
Raising funds to support the effort
The society currently has raised more than three-quarters of the $4 million goal of the "Help Build Hope" capital campaign to fund the land acquisition, construction, and equipping of the facility. But nearly $700,000 of the Madison society's first-ever capital campaign has yet to be raised in order to operate without debt.
"We have appreciated the generosity of the community toward this important project," Middlecamp said. "But we really do hope and plan to operate our center free of debt. Then our full resources can be devoted to providing food and other services to local people in need."
The center recently received a large donation from the Roundy's Foundation, which donated 20,616 pounds of food, worth $18,790, to the new center. Colleen Stenholt, group vice president of human resources at Roundy's Supermarkets and vice president of the Roundy's Foundation, along with several colleagues from Roundy's, were at the grand opening to make a presentation to Middlecamp and the society.
An increasing need
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which began its work in the Madison area in 1925, has offered a food pantry at the Fish Hatchery Rd. site in the Town of Madison since 2005, after moving from its location on Williamson St. Over the years, the food pantry has grown into the busiest food pantry in Dane County, serving those in need from throughout the county.
In recent months that need has increased: on February 24 and May 26, the pantry set a record for itself in number of clients served in its four-hour shift by serving 130 families.
This record is a mixed blessing, Middlecamp said. Having that many people in need is not something to celebrate, but being able to serve them is.
"Serving 130 families does make for a busy day at our new pantry, but our larger space and dedicated volunteers mean we can now handle assisting that many clients smoothly and compassionately," he said. "That was the good news about having a record day."
Closure of a nearby service center
The dedication of the new Center for Vincentian Charity comes at a time of uncertainty in the Madison-area response to the poor and in need.
A day earlier, the Diocese of Madison announced the closure, due to economic strain, of the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC), which operated just off Park St., also on Madison's south side. The CMC had provided a food pantry and meal program, in addition to its educational services, religious services, and employment assistance, since it opened its doors in 2002. St. Martin House, from which the CMC had stemmed, had provided meals and other services for the area since 1946.
It is unknown how much the closure of the CMC will affect the number of people in need seeking help from the new Vincentian center.
"The diocese appreciates that the needs of people are far-reaching, and has always wanted to help in the basic areas of food, shelter, healthcare, clothing, and others -- and that mission will not change in this time of need," Monsignor Ganshert said.
"In (the CMC's) absence at this time, the new center for Vincentian Charity will continue to accomplish its mission in helping people with very important needs, and the diocese will always want to work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society," he said.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is always seeking volunteers to help with the food pantry. For more information on volunteering, or for more information on how to donate to the Help Build Hope campaign, call 608-442-7200 or go to the Web site at www.svdpmadison.org