For Elizabeth Ruiz, volunteering is not just an opportunity to help her neighbors in need, but it is a deeply spiritual experience where she is spreading the love she feels in her community at St. Paul’s Church in San Pablo, California. Elizabeth began volunteering with the St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County (SVdP) conference 14 years ago, when her pastor invited her to volunteer with the SVdP conference (branch) at St. Paul’s.
“Because I’ve known what it’s like to be very poor, and to not know how I was going to get food for my children, I feel like I have a deep, sacred responsibility to help other people,” Elizabeth said. “It’s like I’ve been blessed with the ability to connect with people in need because I’ve been there myself. A lot of people are very shy about accepting charity, so it helps if they have someone helping them that can appreciate that and show them understanding.”
Elizabeth and her husband, Ignacio, joined the SVdP branch at St. Paul’s and began acting as treasurers for the fledgling group of Vincentian volunteers. Elizabeth soon found herself taking on more roles at the SVdP branch, as the volunteer team began to expand services. Elizabeth said she loved helping fill boxes and bags of food for the hungry, helping get and assemble furniture for people in need, and before she knew it she found herself as the branch’s vice-president.
Steve Krank, SVdP’s Vincentian Services Manager, said Elizabeth is an exemplary Vincentian. Steve said Elizabeth not only helps provide food for the hungry, or comfort to the cold, but that she is also a true leader who is able to lead by example.
“Elizabeth is an amazing volunteer and we’re extremely lucky to have her,” Steve said. “She has a very deep, and practical spirituality that moves her to help people, and in doing so she moves those she helps to help others. She’s a blessing.”
Elizabeth does not only help care for her neighbors in need, but she also helps organize and inspire the community at St. Paul’s and in San Pablo. Elizabeth helped run the youth program at St. Paul’s, and is still deeply involved with their outreach and volunteer activities. She said she is proud that the efforts of her fellow Vincentian volunteers has inspired many of the teens in the community to volunteer with SVdP.
“Every year I’m lucky enough to help create a wonderful holiday experience for the kids in San Pablo,” Elizabeth said. “In 2021, we got an amazing donation of toys from St. Monica’s Catholic Church’s parishioners in Moraga, and with that we were able to individually wrap and address them to the children of over 300 families. The teens in the youth group helped wrap all of the gifts and address cards to the recipients. We decorated the front of the church with a beautiful Christmas scene and let families take photos and learn about the traditional history of Christmas. I just felt blessed to get to help create such a beautiful memory for so many families that were struggling during the pandemic.”
Elizabeth said she is blessed to have the time to volunteer. A mother of two, Elizabeth’s eldest is finishing up his theology studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. A lot of Elizabeth’s time is spent caring for her daughter, who has a motor condition which requires Elizabeth’s attention and care.
“Every day is a challenge, but through the grace of God I’m able to get through it and find time to volunteer,” Elizabeth said. “And I’m so thankful for everything I’ve been given. My daughter has taught me to be a better, more understanding person and I’m able to carry those lessons forward when I help people through St. Vincent de Paul.”
Elizabeth said she cannot imagine not volunteering. She said when she is helping people, she feels like she gets proof of her faith.
“When I volunteer and get to help people, I’m blessed with these truly beautiful and moving moments that I carry with me every day.” Elizabeth said. “When I get to go into someone’s home, and bring them food, furniture, clothing or blankets because they’re hungry and cold, I get to see their faces light up with smiles and tears of joy. It’s in those moments that I see God and know that the love I feel is real. When you get to help someone, and share that moment when they realize that there are people out there that care for them and want to help them, it can be very transcendental and deeply moving.”