As I sit to write this end-of-year message one word comes to mind – gratitude.

A great definition of gratitude that I came across is from the Harvard Medical School:

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

How does that apply to the gratitude that I feel in so many aspects of my work?

Our Volunteers
I feel tremendous gratitude for our volunteers – Vincentians, and others. Without our volunteers, we could not do what we do to help our neighbors in need in Contra Costa County. Our volunteers operate the 29 Conferences (branches) throughout the county – the “feet on the street” who provide assistance and support via home visits where we help people navigate through their challenges, often helping our neighbors move past poverty. From my fellow Vincentians at the St. John Vianney Conference to the many other Vincentians throughout the county that I have gotten to know, I am grateful for your commitment to this beautiful ministry.

We also have an amazing cadre of volunteers who staff our clinic, the Rotacare Free Medical Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul, every Wednesday evening (and two Saturdays a month). Nurses, physicians, EMTs, dieticians, and interpreters regularly give of their time and talents to provide healthcare to the uninsured at no cost.

Other volunteers who help us tremendously are those who lend their time to helping in our thrift stores. From sorting to pricing to selling the generously donated goods we receive, we provide the shoppers at our Pleasant Hill, Brentwood, and Pittsburg Thrift Stores a plethora of bargains whose sales generate income to run our programs like Workforce Development, among others. Our stores also benefit greatly from the “Tool Belt Brigade” – a group of volunteers who share their carpentry, painting and all-around handyman skills to keep our facilities looking and running their best.

Sadly, we began the year mourning the loss of one of our long-time dedicated Vincentians, Ron Weston, whose dedication to the mission of St. Vincent de Paul was reflected in the many roles he held here. From Executive Director to Vincentian at the St. Joan of Arc and Hope Conferences, from Stores Committee chair to Board member, Ron always kept our mission at the forefront of what he did for SVdP. “A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need. The current members of the Board of Directors share this dedication to carrying out the mission of the Society and I am very grateful to have their support and guidance.

We were able to join in the celebration of our many volunteers on June 25, the occasion of our 55th Anniversary of SVdP in Contra Costa County. At this event, more than 250 people gathered to acknowledge Vincentians and other volunteers whose dedication to serving our neighbors-in-need often goes unrecognized. I was reminded that we don’t do the work that we do because we want to be lauded for it, but rather we do the work that we do because we are called and driven to do so.

Our Community Partners

We partner with so many other community members to help our neighbors-in-need and to have that spirit of collaboration threaded through all of our programs and services is a remarkable thing for which I am grateful. We partner with Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa to operate our free dining room, providing more than 140 healthy lunches every day to people who might otherwise not have a hot meal. As I mentioned earlier, we operate our clinic in cooperation with Rotacare Bay Area – having had more than 12,500 patient visits since its inception in 2010 shows the impact that this program has. John Muir brings its Mobile Health Van to our facility twice a month to also provide free healthcare to the uninsured. And Fresh Approach brings its Mobile Farmer’s Market to our Pittsburg Family Resource Center twice a month with local produce at discounted prices to those who qualify. Participants in the Winter Nights program, operated by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, are welcomed to St. Vincent de Paul during the daytime at the Oasis Daytime Shelter, and they often benefit from other SVdP services available at the Pittsburg Family Resource Center.

We actively participate in many of Contra Costa County’s programs to serve the underserved in our community, including serving on the governing board of Healthcare for the Homeless and the Access to Care Stakeholders group. In the many communities where we serve our neighbors-in-need, local governments recognize the valuable and necessary support that SVdP provides to their communities. Gratitude is a two-way street.

Our Funders and Donors

Without the support of our many foundations, corporate and especially individual donors, we could not do what we do. The gratitude that I have for the philanthropic spirit of those whose funding keeps the doors open is hard to put into words. I have the privilege of getting to know both the company & foundation representatives of our funders and learning how their support of SVdP fulfills their missions. I learn the most from the individual donors whom I have gotten to know and learn their story of why they choose SVdP to be a recipient of their philanthropic efforts.

This fall, we were honored to be selected as a finalist for the IMPACT Diablo Valley grant which garnered us a $12,000 grant to support our efforts in homelessness prevention. Although I was grateful for the money that our Hope Conference will be able to distribute to neighbors in need of housing assistance, I was most grateful to be a part of this organization’s mission to teach philanthropy to their children by having them actively participate in the selection process of the grant awardees. Teaching a child about homelessness is not an easy task, but learning how one of the children was so moved by our presentation that he has collected shoes for distribution to our homeless neighbors-in-need is such a gratifying feeling – we’ve made an impact to our future.

From grants for the clinic to individual donations for our dental program, we are able to provide much-needed healthcare service to our community. We can provide employment and training opportunities to individuals who otherwise may not be able to be employed thanks to corporate and foundation funding for our Workforce Development program. Seeing program participants grow in confidence, skills and self-esteem is such a gratifying experience and could not happen without the dedication of this program’s volunteer instructors, mentors and staff support for the on-the-job training.

At the conference level, I am also very grateful for the individuals who donate to support our local SVdP efforts. Without their generosity, running food pantries, providing housing assistance and clothing, etc. would not be possible.

Our Staff

Every day I am truly grateful for all with whom I have the pleasure of working – in the office, in the stores and on the road (our transportation department). We are truly a family here who are driven to be here not just for a paycheck but for what we do and who we help. In a day and age where longevity at a job is becoming a rare occurrence, working side-by-side with colleagues who have been here 5, 10, 15 and even 20 years show this dedication to serving those most in need. Two years ago when I stepped into the Executive Director’s role here, I had no idea that I would have such support, camaraderie, and loyalty from such a great group of individuals. Thank you all!

I wish all of you – our Vincentians, volunteers, funders, donors and friends of St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County – the happiest of holidays. My prayers for your health, happiness and may you receive many blessings in the new year.

Claudia L. Ramirez

Executive Director, St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County