St. Vincent de Paul’s newest enterprise, Catering of Champions, began on June 4. The idea was brought to us by longtime volunteer, Javier Silvares. “I remember seeing the happiness in the Kitchen of Champions students’ faces while they were in the program learning so much and I thought I could do even more for them,” he said. “I decided to do a step more than me just volunteering. This is really my home. It’s the life I choose and the life I want to live.” The program’s first task is planning a fundraiser to be held July 20.
The Catering of Champions staff will include Silvares, one part-time cook and an administrative aid to handle booking and advertising. Silvares has planned a menu including Spanish dishes from his home country. He cooked for 128 people at the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon in April, and received a lot of positive feedback about the flavorful meal. Silvares has two goals for the program: first, to provide stable employment and continuation of culinary education for graduates of Kitchen of Champions, and second, to earn money for St. Vincent de Paul. “We are really life-changers here. People want to do better and change and we accompany them on that journey,” Silvares said.
Sylvester, also known as Langston, is a regular guest of St. Vincent de Paul who can be found eating in the dining room. He is a former guest of our shelter. He always said, “If you don’t see me, it’s because I found housing.” We are happy to say he has found housing through Veterans’ support and we hope to still see Sylvester and his smile come by our West Oakland direct service campus!
“I always came to St. Vincent between November and April and I would sleep underneath the cross. But in April the shelter would close, and I would need to sleep under a bus stop. It was hard. A man tried to attack me there. Now the shelter is open year–round and what a blessing that is. Now if you need a place to lay your head you know you can count on St. Vincent. I am a Vietnam veteran. I served three tours of duty.
“But now I have just gotten a place for homeless vets with medical problems and I can stay for two years! I have a spot on my liver that keeps growing and I just had extensive surgery on my kidneys. They help you with everything. They also help you get transitional housing.
“When my granddaughter got killed in a car accident, I was in a grieving period for over a year and the Veterans helped me and St. Vincent helped me. It was a very difficult time. It almost killed me. I needed a place to lay my head and St. Vincent was here. Now I attend groups at the behavioral center to get my mind right. I am very grateful to St. Vincent de Paul.”
On Saturday, April 13, we hosted our annual Easter Open House for 54 families and 187 children. With the help of 16 volunteers, including photographer Sacha and a group from Pledge to Humanity at San Ramon Valley High School, we were able to give every family a Safeway gift card, Easter baskets, photos with the Easter bunny, free books and Easter themed crafts. A special pizza lunch was made by our kitchen staff and Kitchen of Champions cohort. Our open house events are a great way to celebrate important moments of the year and bring our community together for a bright spot in our lives. Thank you to all who continue to support the open house events. Our next open house will be celebrating back to school in August. If you would like to sign up to volunteer or donate, please contact our volunteer team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Very Reverend James Vernon Matthews, Jr., rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, passed away on March 30, 2019. He was ordained on May 3, 1974 and became the first African-American priest in Northern California. He cited his “unique” experience as a black Catholic priest as an impetus to bring communities together, which was a focus of his work. He was a key leader throughout the Diocese of Oakland and served as chaplain to the Oakland police and fire departments and as vicar and spiritual director of Black Catholics. He was the Parochial Administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Oakland, and the former pastor of St. Benedict, where he served for 25 years. He worked closely with the City of Oakland and in the interfaith community with the goal of unifying communities. St. Vincent de Paul would like to offer deep condolences for all who knew and looked up to Fr. Jay. We pray for his soul to see God, for his surviving loved ones and for the Christ the Light Conference members, who are mourning his loss. We are inspired by great people like Fr. Jay. May he rest in peace.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a key local think tank, released a new study on homelessness in the Bay Area, and, at Mayor Schaaf’s suggestion, they wanted the study to be rolled out to the press and the community at St. Vincent de Paul. Executive Director Blase Bova was invited to participate in the roundtable discussion, along with some noted civic and corporate leaders including President and CEO of Kaiser Permanente Bernard Tyson and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Participants discussed the need for a regional plan to address homelessness, as well as unity amongst the entire Bay Area, including the Sacramento area, to support each other’s efforts in housing the unhoused.
The Bay Area has the third highest homeless population in the country with over 28,000 homeless residents, behind New York City and Los Angeles. The report says part of the problem is low income people are becoming homeless at a faster rate than communities can move existing homeless people into housing. “We can subsidize rents when they fall on hard times, we can purchase buildings and turn market rate housing into affordable housing, we can provide rental assistance, so they don't have to choose between medical payments and rent payments,” said Jim Wunderman with the Bay Area Council. St. Vincent de Paul thanks the work of our Vincentians across the county through their eviction prevention work. You are addressing a crucial aspect of the homeless crisis that needs more widespread support, and the Bay Area Council agrees.
Last fall, dining room volunteer Giorgio Tavecchio returned to our dining room in Oakland before he was brought on as kicker for the Atlanta Falcons. Tavecchio is a Bay Area native who played football at UC Berkeley and even played professionally for the Oakland Raiders. He began volunteering at SVdP because he was influenced by his father.
After leaving to play for the Falcons, he stayed in contact with us, sending well wishes to staff and volunteers. It was a great surprise to see him return to serve in the dining room on March 7. Tavecchio and our custodian Joseph (pictured) became fast friends, and were happy to see each other again. He even left a signed Falcons hat for Joseph to wear. We are so happy he kept us in mind, and was called to serve during this trip home. “I am in town visiting family, so I had to come back home to St. Vincent,” Tavecchio said. He has signed a two–year contract with the Falcons, and plans to volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul in Atlanta. We wish Giorgio the best of luck, and hope to see him again in Oakland soon!
Please read the story of our West Oakland direct service campus guest Jerry, in his own words. Your support of St. Vincent de Paul helps community members, like Jerry, enjoy a safe place to eat. We are happy to prayerfully serve alongside community members who inspire us each day.
“I’ve been coming here off an on for a few years. I usually sit down and have a meal. I like to talk to people when I come. I’ve known the security guard, Eddie, for a long time. There are a lot of nice people here. I used to take showers but I don’t need them anymore because I am no longer homeless.
“I like to hang out at the library and read books. I play basketball, too. I do some odd jobs when I can. My SSI is pending, but I don’t want to rely on it for the rest of my life. I like reading nonfiction, like autobiographies and biographies of Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. I also like to read Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins for thrillers. I’ve been in transitional housing since 2017. It’s not a bad place. They help with permanent housing if you want it. I have a housing coordinator I’m going to meet with this month. I want a space of my own. I want a home.
“I joined a rehab program called Options in 2017 after I was hit by a hit and run driver and was in a coma for one month. I was asleep for a lot less time than they expected or than people usually are from injuries like mine. After I woke up I was too scared to ever use again, so I entered the Options program and I’ve been straight ever since. When I was doing nothing, I had nothing to lose. When I survived and came out of a coma and almost lost my life, I didn’t want to risk it again. The man upstairs was with me. He had to be. It wasn’t me who woke me up. It had to be him.
“If I can help somebody, I’m willing to do what I can, even though I need so much help. I can be there to talk with others. People have helped me with no strings attached and I’m alive to talk about it. I’m not where I want to be, but thank goodness I’m not where I used to be.”
The International Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam, a 20-year-old student at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. Challenged to "practice what they preach," Frederic and a group of fellow students sought out the poor in Paris and brought them bread, clothing and most importantly, friendship. Similar groups began forming throughout the world including the United States. The first St. Vincent de Paul Conference of Alameda County in Oakland was active from 1882 to 1892. The current Council of Alameda County was established in 1938. It began with a group of six volunteer groups, called Conferences, from throughout the county who joined together to execute our mission by having district meetings together, assessing the needs of their communities, and taking action to help serve them.
Our Mission & Values
The mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County is to provide relief and support to those in need through person-to-person assistance guided by Vincentian principles of fellowship and individual spiritual growth. SVdP staff and volunteers are a charity united by their spirit of poverty, humility and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection, mutually supportive gatherings and adherence to the basic rule.
The National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a network of charity organizations with over 800,000 members. In Alameda County, SVdP is represented within a Catholic parish called a Conference. Members, known as Vincentians, serve those in need in their neighborhoods by collecting and distributing funds for eviction prevention, utility bills, and medical costs; providing clothing and furniture; and stocking church food pantries. Today, over 800 Vincentian volunteers, across 38 parishes in Alameda County, provide assistance for over 60,000 people a year. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County includes these 38 parish conferences, two thrift stores and our West Oakland direct service campus.
For more information on your nearest Conference, or for emergency resource referrals call 510-638-7600.
For more information on the national network of SVdP, visit:
St. Vincent de Paul ended 2018 on a good note by filling our dining room with fresh pizza on December 29. Little Caesars brought their 18-wheeler Love Kitchen to the West Oakland direct service campus to serve enough pizza for 900 people.
Thanks to the pizzas made and donated by the Love Kitchen, we served almost 600 trays to our guests for lunch, with plenty leftover for a pizza night in the shelter. during lunch service. There was a party-like buzz throughout the kitchen and dining room as volunteers, staff and guests shared their glee about pizza day. It goes to show how a simple menu of pizza, salad, fruit and a sweet treat can bring joy and levity to our community. We are grateful to have Little Caesars as a partner and look forward to having the Love Kitchen back in our neighborhood soon!
On January 8, Mayor Libby Schaaf used her first full day of her second term as Oakland mayor to serve at various local organizations, and chose to include our West Oakland direct service campus in her tour. There, she and a group of her office staff spoke with our clients and served food, along with juice, milk and water during lunch.
Mayor Schaaf has consistently supports SVdP and our programs. "I could think of no better place to spend my first full day of my second term as the mayor of Oakland. Not only is it about returning to my own roots of community service, but being in proximity to the people I most want to serve as well as the people who are in service to our community’s unsheltered and homeless. This is just a beautiful operation fueled by compassionate volunteers, amazing staff and guests who clearly love not just the tasty meal, but the wonderful community,” Mayor Schaaf said.
We are grateful for the support we receive from the mayor's office and look forward to their next visit!