The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Diocese of Wilmington is a group of more than 1,000 people who frequently operate below the radar helping some of the most desperate, down-and-out people in our area.
Members don’t look for recognition, but the diocese council was recognized in a big way earlier this month. The group earned the 2017 Beau Biden Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award.
The Delaware Criminal Justice Council voted last year to introduce the annual award to “one program that merits recognition for providing effective services to address crime-related issues in their communities,” and named the honor after the late Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III, the former state attorney general. The inaugural winner last year was the Delaware Capital Police Violence Intervention Program.
Those who benefit from the work of St. Vincent de Paul are people about to be released from prison or those who have just been released. Many are down on their luck, without resources, family, friends or a place to stay.
That’s where the St. Vincent de Paul members step in.
“That’s what we do,” said Paul Collins, a 94-year-old parishioner of St. Patrick’s in Wilmington. He is chairman of the board of prison ministry and retired president of the council. Chuck Miller is president of the Council of Wilmington.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul rents two houses, one in Wilmington and another in Dover, Collins said. They interview prisoners before they are released and arrange to meet them when they are set free.
The group provides cosmetics, clothing and somewhere to live for men and women as part of special works in prison ministry. They also help them find a job and get back on their feet.
“They have no money and most of them burned their bridges,” Collins said. He said part of the group’s effort is to reduce the region’s recidivism rate.
“It’s an extremely important mission, not only from a religious standpoint. Most of these people who come out are very bitter. It’s nice for someone to show a little kindness. Most people misunderstand us. They think we’re social workers and we’re not. We try to be more Christian. We treat them as equals.”
Christian Kervick, executive director of the Criminal Justice Council, said the society does the most with its resources.
“They were the clear winner,” he said. “They do such good work with 98 percent of funding going directly to client services. And that’s rare.”