St. Vincent de Paul serving during pandemic Print
Around the Diocese
Thursday, Apr. 09, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

St. Vincent de Paul serving clients
Chris Kane, director of client services, and the rest of the staff and volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul have been busy providing curbside pickup to the food pantry clients.
(Contributed photo)

MADISON -- Adapting how it serves, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Madison continues to help thousands of Dane County neighbors in need each week, even in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the Society's Madison service center, the large and busy St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and Wisconsin's only free pharmacy have both adapted to observe guidelines to help protect the health of all involved while assisting large numbers of people coping with poverty.

Under Wisconsin's Safer at Home order, the Society's programs of service are among those deemed essential.

Many of those assisted, such as Edwina, have expressed their thanks to St. Vincent de Paul for the Society's help in a time of uncertainty.

"I've been really grateful for St. Vincent de Paul for food and medicine," Edwina said. "Not only that, I tell others that you can really help yourself, not to use it as a crutch, but for help until you get on your feet and then pay it forward. That is my intention as I get back up on my feet right now."

Food pantry

Normally, the Society's Madison food pantry relies on dozens of volunteers daily and operates on a customer-choice basis inside the Middlecamp Center for Vincentian Charity.

Now, the business end of the food pantry has moved outdoors, and the use of volunteers has been pared down.

Curbside pickup of boxes and bags of pre-packed food from the pantry, along with the social-distancing and proper hygiene measures, have helped keep all involved safer.

The system requires fewer volunteers to operate, and staff and volunteers now load food into vehicles as clients wait in the front seat. Those arriving by bus or on foot are also assisted on a curbside basis.

During the last few weeks, the Society's Madison pantry has been serving between 500 and 600 households per week.

The numbers of households served recently have been about 50 percent higher than normal for this time of year and appear to signal growing need in the community.

"Many people are already out of work, especially in jobs in food service and retail," said St. Vincent de Paul-Madison CEO and executive director Ernie Stetenfeld.

"Food our pantry supplies allows families coping with low incomes to keep other bills paid . . . for now."

Stetenfeld said that children being out of school makes school-based breakfast and lunch programs less accessible and contributes to the need for more groceries in the homes of families with low incomes.

He said that Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin has been a strong partner in helping St. Vincent de Paul and other area food pantries meet increased needs.

Charitable pharmacy

The St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy serves nearly 400 uninsured patients with low incomes in a year, and most receive several medications monthly to treat their chronic and acute conditions.

For its existing patient base, this free pharmacy is helping keep patients, staff, and volunteers safe and healthy in part by providing patients with 90-day supplies of much needed medicines.

Despite constraints of the pandemic, the pharmacy filled about 450 prescriptions in just five days and nearly 1,000 during March. That is as many as in any other single month in the pharmacy's seven years of operation, and many of those fills were for three-month supplies.

"We are committed to continuing to serve because our priority is to help keep people safe," said Managing Pharmacist Yolanda Tolson-Eveans, RPh. "We have also moved to curbside pickup to limit exposure for our patients with health issues."

"I am thankful for St. Vincent de Paul and my 90-day supply of medications," said Donny, a pharmacy patient. "It soothes me -- gives me peace of mind -- to have my insulin and other medications in case something happens. It is much needed for my health and well-being."

Growing need

With the Society's seven Dane County thrift stores closed for now because of the pandemic, St. Vincent de Paul is without one of its major sources of funding for the Society's local food pantry, pharmacy, and housing programs, also still operating.

Secure, online donations to help the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Madison meet growing needs may be made at