Joe Granda, second from left, County Commissioner Donna Fiala and Fr. Timothy Navin participates in the ribbon-cutting to mark the grand opening of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Naples District Council’s newest thrift store.
In its own quiet way, the San Marco Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has long been fighting hunger locally and helping the needy in a myriad of ways.
“We are a very low-key organization,” said Joe Granda, president of the faith-based, charitable nonprofit’s Naples District Council. The Marco Island resident is also vice-president of the San Marco Conference, which is based at San Marco Catholic Church. The conference covers Marco, Isle of Capri, Goodland, up S.R. 951 to the East Trail and the areas around Everglades City and Chokoloskee.
The Naples District covers all of Collier County and it’s comprised of eight conferences, one for each of the Catholic Churches in the county. The district would like to raise its public profile in hopes of attracting additional financial and other donations, as well as more volunteers to help with accomplishing its mission.
Better known as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the international organization of the Catholic Church offers a host of services, including:
- Services for the homeless.
- Medical and dental care for the working poor.
- Charity dining rooms that serve thousands each day.
- Food boxes for hungry families.
- Thrift stores throughout the region.
- A bridge housing shelter.
- General assistance for individuals in need.
Locally, the San Marco Conference provides such services as:
- Delivering prepared meals to the homebound, elderly people who aren’t able to cook, the seriously ill and others who meet society qualification criteria.
- Taking the homebound and those who can’t drive or lack transportation and qualify for assistance to shop or doctor’s appointments.
- Providing temporary assistance for such things as rent, electricity, utilities, gas, groceries, clothing and more for those who’ve lost jobs or been laid off or are suffering economic difficulties for other reasons.
The Naples Council also offers a weekly food bank and other services at its headquarters, located at 4451 Mercantile Ave., Naples.
“One of the things that we preach is that we see the face of Christ in everybody and Jesus Christ tells us that we have to take care of those who need our help; because one day we’re all going to go up there. And we’re going to be asked what did we do with our time and our talent and our treasure, and we all better be ready to answer that question,” said Granda.
Countywide, he said, the society delivers almost 100,000 meals annually—roughly 200 every day. San Marco Conference volunteers deliver approximately 45 meals daily.
Granda explained that the Naples Council’s financial picture has darkened over the last few years, leading to an operating loss of $300,000 last fiscal year, which required dipping into financial reserves.
“A couple years ago, we had a donor who passed away and left us a couple million dollars,” explained Granda. “We have been chipping away at that every year because we have been operating in the red, especially since we lost the store on Davis Road, which provided funds for our mission.”
The store he referred to was the society’s thrift shop, which sustained major damage on September 10, 2017, when Hurricane Irma ripped the roof off the building and ruined the interior. The insurer didn’t provide sufficient funds to repair both the roof and the interior of the building.
“We had to sell the store, which was owned by St. Vincent de Paul, at a distressed price,” said Granda.
After two years of fundraising, that store, one of the three the council has in Collier County, is back in operation, but in a new location—3810 Tamiami Trail East. A grand opening for the shop was held recently, which attracted society and government officials, San Marco Catholic Church Pastor Rev. Timothy Navin, and more than 300 shoppers.
Liz Minozzi of Marco volunteers at the store. “This is such a wonderful organization. I just love it,” she said. “Having the store back is so important because we’re helping families that are in need.”
Granda said anyone can be a volunteer, including non-Catholics. But the society does require fingerprinting and a background check because the volunteers deal with children and a vulnerable elderly population. There’s also a two-hour long training program.
Where donations are concerned, items that can be easily carried, such as clothes and some furniture and appliances, can simply be dropped off at one of the council’s three thrift shops. For items that are too heavy to carry, call 239-775-1667 to have it picked up. For financial donations, they can be mailed to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 4451 Mercantile Ave., Naples, Fla. 34104. Or donations can be made at each church’s Poor Box. At San Marco Catholic, the boxes are found at each of the church’s four entrances.