SUSAN BRESSLER: Compassion shows at St. Vincent de Paul

Just when I thought I’d seen all of the great things happening in Renton in regard to its charitable organizations, I got an eye-opening tour of St. Vincent de Paul’s operation in Renton. In case you don’t know, St. Vincent de Paul's is an international Catholic organization serving the poor in 142 countries, with 52 local volunteer groups. They are so much more than their Thrift Store. Their mission is “Compassion in Action.” And, action is definitely a word to describe this local Renton office.

In the words of Richard Bray, community relations director, they basically do “anything that needs to be done.” You do not need to be Catholic to receive assistance, and they don’t ask. If you need assistance in King County, you phone the helpline (206-767-6449) and then by zip code, you are referred to the Renton office. Some things that impressed me: They operate their own food bank which distributes food to feed a family three times a day for two days and distribute 120 sack lunches monthly to those who need it. Many of the folks picking up lunches right now are the working poor; and the food bank is greatly in need right now. They refer clients to the Salvation Army for food and items they cannot provide. They assist with items such as emergency assistance, helping with rent, utility bills, furniture and other critical aid items.

While I was getting my tour, a man came in from off the street who needed $7 for his kidney dialysis. Just like that, a man’s life was probably saved. Bray told me that “there is hope” in the way we treat one another, and during trying times, St. Vincent has always expanded to meet the need. He calls the community to action and says that no matter who you are, you can do something. Even a package of crackers (greatly needed) will help.

Lani Cavit, the driving force in Renton’s volunteer operations, astonished me with some figures: their roughly $100,000 budget has only $420 in operating expenses. Yes, you read that correctly: $420. About $56,000 is donated in cash, and the equivalent of $53,000 is donated in food.

The volunteers shared lots of stories of the miracles that happen there daily. My favorite story was about the three-cent skateboard at Christmas. You see, a little girl had requested a skateboard, and the volunteer shopping for the skateboard could only find “boy-ish” ones, until they happened upon a pink one. In attempting to buy it, the cashier tried repeated ways of ringing up the skateboard, and every time, it said: 3 cents. Finally, a manager, after one last try, said: “I guess it’s 3 cents”. A sign from above? I think so.

If you know of a neighbor in need, have them give St. Vincent de Paul a call 206-767-6449.

Susan Bressler is an active member of a number of Renton organizations, including Piazza Renton. E-mail her at

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