Sweet Idea: YP Board Scoops up Advocacy and Ice Cream



The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP), Diocese of Cleveland’s newly-formed Young Professionals (YP) Board recently launched its first advocacy effort.

Held at a Tremont Scoops ice cream store on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the group of volunteers hosted a letter-writing initiative to members of Congress in support of programs that benefit the hungry and impoverished. To sweeten the deal, ice cream store patrons even received a discount on their purchase if they participated in the campaign.

More than 40 letters were collected, said YP Board member Jon Gromek.

YP Board members Jon Gromek & Melissa Olenik

Advocacy for the people SVDP serves is a key component of the Cleveland YP Board’s mission, he explained. “We thought mixing in a fun event like getting ice cream with something needed right now — given the political climate — to advocate for SVDP clients would be an engaging and purposeful event that would attract young adults and others.”

The initiative, which was held on September 9, also presented another opportunity to promote the Society and its good works to the general public.

The National Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s advocacy arm, Voice of the Poor, encourages SVDP Councils across the U.S. to bring attention to the issues critical to people living in poverty.




Hunger Doesn’t Vacation in Summer

“If It wasn’t for St. Vincent de Paul Society’s hunger centers, we wouldn’t have any food in our house right now.”

Erika & Daughter for Letter

Erika & Daughter Natalia


Children love summer.

But while sunny warm days beckon hours of outdoor fun, friends and travel, it’s also a time of anxiety and hardship for thousands of poor kids in our community who go hungry because they lose their daily school lunch programs.  What’s more, because summer is also a time of higher utility costs there is even less money available for necessities like food and rent.

As a result, many parents are faced with the heart-breaking choice between feeding their family and paying the rent to avoid homelessness.

As a parent of two girls, Erika knows firsthand the agonizing struggle to prevent her children from feeling the pains of hunger, especially during summer break.

She recently moved to Cleveland from Connecticut — where she worked as a medical assistant — only to learn that she couldn’t practice her profession in Cleveland until she obtained her Ohio certificate.  In an effort to create a better life for her daughters, she enrolled in classes to earn her Ohio state medical assistant license so she could once again help others through her profession.

But because she is temporarily unemployed, her family runs out of food at certain times each and every month.

Fortunately, she found help nearby at St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Brookside Hunger Center.

“If it wasn’t for St. Vincent de Paul Society’s hunger centers, we wouldn’t have any food in our house right now,” she says.  “If they weren’t here, I don’t think we’d even survive the summer in Cleveland.”

Erika was so impressed by the kindness of St. Vincent de Paul Society’s hunger center staff and volunteers that she wanted to give back by volunteering herself.

And she wants others to realize that their financial donations have a huge impact on real children and adults in Northeast Ohio.

In fact, every $1 donated feeds a family of four.

Help fight summer hunger among local children today by clicking here to make a donation.  Or simply mail your check to St. Vincent de Paul Society Summer Hunger Relief, 1404 East 9th Street-3rd Floor, Cleveland, OH  44114.

Thank you for helping us bring summer back to children in need!


Taking it to the Streets: Angels in Disguise

Homeless in New York

Volunteers Joe and Mary Tondo 

At first glance, Joe and Mary Tondo  look like your average retired married couple.

But as St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers (known as “Vincentians”) from St. Joseph Parish in Avon Lake, Ohio, they’re regarded by many as nothing less than angels in disguise.

The Tondos have taken their works of charity to the streets in order to reach out to their community’s most forgotten citizens.

Each week, the Tondos seek out the homeless in Lorain city parks and provide them with food and clothing, many times at their own personal expense.

One year, Mary even lovingly crocheted 69 woolen blankets and 50 woolen caps with yarn she purchased in order to give the homeless a semblance of warmth during the cold weather.

If that were not enough, she and her husband provide weekly meals to the poor at city parks and at Lorain Catholic Charities. During one month alone, they prepared 171 meals.

The Tondos started their ministry in gratitude after Joe’s successful open heart surgery a few years earlier.

They believe that it’s not enough just to bring individuals food and clothing, but to do so with a heartfelt smile and a desire to get to know them.

“We feel like it’s sort of a mission from God,” said Mary.

“These people have no expectations of living and truly think their journey is just to survive. They have nothing, and yet they tell us, ‘If you need help with anything, just let us know.’”

“We’re very passionate that they deserve more than what they have,” added Joe.

Volunteers Joe & Mary Tondo (left) were honored for their ministry to the homeless in Lorain County, Ohio

Volunteers Joe & Mary Tondo (left) were honored by St. Vincent de Paul Society for their ministry to the homeless in Lorain County, Ohio


I Never Thought That I Would Need Help

Lynardo Mays 2 - Jan. 29, 2016


Lynardo’s Story

Lynardo never saw it coming.

“It was like a lightning bolt out of the blue!”

This is how he describes the shocking moment he found himself homeless and hungry for the first time in his life.

Before this time, Lynardo and his wife of 43 years had been living for more than three decades in a comfortable middle class suburban Cleveland home that he painstakingly fixed up throughout the years.

Hunger and homelessness were two things he never had to worry about.

But when his marriage took a turn for the worse, Lynardo suddenly found himself banished from his home, alone, hungry and living on the streets.

“It was something that I least expected,” he said. The challenge now was finding help so that he could survive this crisis.

That’s when someone suggested turning to the St. Vincent de Paul Society Woodland hunger center.

Lynardo was worried that his lack of an address might prevent him from receiving emergency food, but was pleasantly surprised that the St. Vincent de Paul Society staff and volunteers were able to register him in the hunger center’s computer system and give him the help he needed immediately.

He was also impressed by the workers’ genuine concern for his wellbeing, such as whether or not he had a roof over his head at the end of the day.

The emergency food he received through the St. Vincent de Paul Society was a much-needed blessing during a very difficult time, Lynardo said.

Today, he is off the streets and lives in a house that he is renovating for a friend. And during the summer, he is employed as a landscaper at a golf course.

But he still occasionally relies on St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Woodland hunger center, especially during the winter when it’s more difficult to find work and his funds are limited.

“I’m very thankful for what I get at the hunger center,” he said. “It supplies me with the staples so that there’s less I have to buy. This helps my bottom line.”

He added that his experience has been humbling because he now has a new respect for people who are in crisis.

“There needs to be an entity to help others in these situations, and St. Vincent de Paul Society is that entity,” he said.

Lynardo is only one example of the 13,000 deserving adults, children and senior citizens in Northeast Ohio that the St. Vincent de Paul Society hunger centers feed monthly, thanks to the generous contributions of kind neighbors.

Whether it’s through non-perishables, fresh produce or hot meals served with a kind heart and caring smile, SVDP hunger centers offer people in crisis the nourishment they need to sustain them when there’s no other place to turn.

To End Poverty in America, We Must First Understand It

By Natalie R. Schrimpf
Manager, Marketing & Development



We’ve all heard the numbers surrounding poverty in the United States.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau findings tell us there are approximately 47 million impoverished Americans (according to the official measure, which was created a half century earlier in the 1960s). That number rises to nearly 50 million when examined using the new “Supplemental Poverty Measure,” which takes into account additional key factors, like the difference in housing costs across geographical regions, and government program assistance families receive.

But regardless of how we measure poverty, there is one thing the numbers don’t reveal: the fact that not all poverty is the same.

For example, most middle class Americans are able to grasp the concept of situational poverty, where someone experiences a temporary spell of financial hardship due to life events, such as a job loss or illness. Although this type of poverty is challenging, usually the affected individual maintains a semblance of hope and is still connected to a support network that will most likely facilitate his or her chances of getting out of this “slump.” Those who experience this genre of poverty typically don’t internalize it as being caused by a lack of worth.

Conversely, in working class poverty, individuals are employed (often in low-paying, menial jobs), but rarely earn enough money to cover all the necessities, like health care. These Americans live pay check to pay check, and are more likely to regard their poverty as a personal deficiency.

Then there is chronic, generational poverty.

Americans trapped in this latter form find themselves in a constant state of crisis where the goal is simply to make it through another day. There exists a high rate of family mobility and illiteracy, and few people have known anyone who has escaped poverty’s grip by gaining an education. People living in generational poverty tend to internalize their situation and often believe that the rest of society just doesn’t care.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Cleveland, encounters the many faces of poverty each day, and strives to assess and understand the unique needs of every person seeking help.

During this past year alone, the organization’s volunteer members gave a helping hand to more than 260,000 men, women, children and senior citizens throughout Northeast Ohio with food, emergency utility and rent payments, school supplies, and winter blankets and outerwear. And when they can’t meet someone’s need directly, they connect that person to other organizations that can.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society knows the importance of recognizing the various types of poverty in order to best understand where a person is at a particular moment in time.

The national rhetoric surrounding poverty often makes society forget that it is a human issue and we all need to come to the table, according to national poverty expert Donna M. Beegle, Ph.D. In an effort to ignite the conversation surrounding poverty and begin to truly understand its forms and distinct challenges, SVDP Cleveland partnered with the City Club of Cleveland on December 4, 2015 to host a program on Breaking Poverty Barriers that featured Beegle and her enlightening message.

The U.S. is the only country that actually blames its people for their poverty, says Beegle. What’s more, the number-one teacher on poverty isn’t our universities, but our media.

“When we focus on people’s deficits, we fail to see their strengths,” she notes. “United, we can fight poverty together. But divided, we fight each other.”

Beegle understands the chains of poverty all too well.

She grew up in generational poverty as the child of migrant workers. Her youth was spent traveling with her family from Arizona to Washington as they followed the fruit-picking season. During this time, she experienced homelessness, hunger, humiliation and the growing sense that no one cared about people like her.

Like so many others in generational poverty, Beegle spoke a language different from the middle class. This made it extremely difficult for her in school, where she constantly encountered words that she couldn’t understand. When she asked her teachers to explain their meaning, they instructed her to look them up in the dictionary. This merely resulted in more frustration, as the dictionary only offered her additional unfamiliar jargon.

As is the case with so many others living in deep poverty, Beegle didn’t know anyone who ever benefitted from earning a degree. This middle class perspective of “education is the route to success” was completely foreign to her.

By the time she was 15, Beegle left school for marriage. At 25 years old, she was divorced, had two children, a limited education and no job skills. She continued to struggle with poverty until the following year, when she attended a “Women in Transition” class. It was there that she met a lady who actually broke the cycle of poverty.

Beegle started to envision what previously seemed completely impossible. During the subsequent decade, she earned her G.E.D., bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

With the help of mentor Bob Fulford, Ph.D., she co-founded Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm dedicated to broadening and improving opportunities for people who live in the poverty war zone. Through her organization, she conducts seminars to teach others how to move beyond judgment and stereotypes and gain a deeper understanding of poverty’s causes and how it impacts people. These events also link low-income individuals with community professionals in an effort to provide networks and resources.

Her inspiring story and work have been featured in publications across the country and on local and national television stations, including PBS. She is the author of See Poverty, Be The Difference, a resource book for professionals who work with people in poverty.

In a clip from her PBS documentary promo, Invisible Nation, Beegle very candidly sums up life in poverty:

“In poverty, life happens to you. You don’t get to make life happen. You wait for the next crisis, and you react.”