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St. Vincent de Paul helping to bridge school lunch gap in Crosby-Ironton

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul builds in a certain flexibility for local conferences, and the group at the neighboring parishes in Crosby and Ironton have found an important niche: helping children who may go hungry in the summer months, when they do not have access to free or reduced- cost school lunches.

Mary Becker, president of the Western Duluth Diocese District Council of the society, said there are a few conferences in the area, following the parish clusters, all of which started four to five years ago. In addition to Crosby-Deerwood, there are conferences in Walker-Hackensack and Nisswa-Pequot Lakes-Pine River.

“Every conference can decide what their specialty is or what their community needs,” she said, “and they set it up according to what they discover through time, what their community needs.”

She said this is something that is continually being discerned. One of the conferences focuses on home visits to help with whatever people need, such as gas, rent, or electricity bills. Another does home visits with a particular attention to the Native American population, with a majority of visits taking place on the reservation.

For the conference in Crosby and Deerwood, it was the local school district that made the need known to two members of St. Vincent de Paul four years ago. This drew immediate attention and a contact to school officials. Within weeks, the conference began preparing nutritious bag lunches to distribute to local children two days a week, at first in fairly minimal sessions.

But the school social worker notified families who had used the school lunch program of the new opportunity, and within a few weeks, other church groups and a local hospital and clinic had contacted them to join in serving the kids.

Now, four years in, the program is serving 75 to 100 children a day. Joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society are Salem Lutheran of Deerwood, Immanuel Lutheran of Crosby, Cascade Methodist of Deerwood, and Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, known collectively as the “Lunch Bunch.” Each group handles its own preparations, costs, and volunteers.

Becker said the stories are sometimes moving.

“One little boy came in and said, ‘Do you have some for my brother?’” she said. Then he mentioned that his mom and dad probably needed lunch too.

“Those requests are made. So it’s a need that’s being filled.”

Becker said the ecumenical aspect of the Lunch Bunch is typical of the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and something they hope to do more. “It’s something that national is encouraging us to do,” she said.

In fact, the last four people who joined are Lutheran.

Becker says that for the Vincentians, it’s not only about helping the poor materially, it’s a spiritual mission.

“Our No. 1 goal for St. Vincent de Paul is the spirituality of the Vincentians,” she said. “Because if we’re not growing spiritually, this will not work.”

To that end, not only does every conference have a spiritual advisor and include prayer and Scripture in every meeting, they also pray with those whose homes they visit when possible.

The Vincentians also strive to be a resource to other assistance agencies and are working to provide mentoring to help people out of poverty.

Those who would like to assist the Lunch Bunch can send contributions to the St. Catherine LaBoure Conference, SVdP of Crosby, Deerwood, MN, at PO Box 451, Deerwood, MN 56444.

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross