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Society Serves Needy
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Of several Riverbank groups, generally attached to the churches, that make a practice of feeding the hungry and helping those in need in all sorts of ways, the St. Vincent De Paul Society operating out of the St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church, is one of the most comprehensive in its services.

"There's no reason why anybody should starve in Riverbank. There's plenty of food available," said Society member Scott McRitchie, noting the Christian Food Sharing organization operating out of the Scout Hall and Christ the King Episcopal Church also serving many of the needy.

"The St. Vincent De Paul program started many years ago, in France I believe, with a couple of college students who began providing firewood for the widows of their town," he explained. "The idea was to go out in twos and bring charity to the needy."

The non-profit, charitable program reached Riverbank about 15 years ago when McRitchie and about six to eight other people set up a program relying on an answering machine and taking food, clothing and furniture to anyone in need. In a few years, their numbers dwindled to two, and that made it tough going. So they decided to set up operations at the church in hopes of tapping into a larger base of volunteers.

The food distribution at the church now operates on Mondays and Thursdays and draws about 50 people on an average day.

"We will try and help anyone in Riverbank," McRitchie said. "We're open 52 weeks of the year. We don't preach at them. Anybody is welcome. They will receive food of some kind. And we don't require proof of low income. But we soon hear about and discourage freeloaders. The grapevine is very reliable."

Organizations such as Christian Food Sharing have to require proof of low income and keep meticulous records because they receive a state grant. The St. Vincent De Paul group does not and relies entirely on donations.

The church takes up four or five collections a year for a total of about $10,000. The St. Vincent group uses the money to purchase food from the Second Harvest food bank in Manteca, generally at around 20 cents per pound, and also makes deals with local markets like O'Brien's and Fair Deal for fresh produce such as milk, eggs and meat. It also passes out cards on one Sunday a month and invites the congregation to bring specified foodstuffs the following Sunday.

Sometimes instead of issuing actual food at a distribution, organizers find it easier to give clients a voucher that they can redeem at a local market.

Over the years, St. Vincent has offered other services to the needy besides food.

"If they can't pay a PG&E bill or can't afford a prescription," McRitchie noted of other ways the society can assist. "Somebody needs a tire on his or her car or their water pump gave out. We've even helped pay for a funeral. Things like that. We try to help."

But it's on a case-by-case basis, depends on the circumstances and what resources the group has, McRitchie stressed.

The St. Vincent group also provides clothing where needed. They get almost too much clothing donated. Their clients can take almost as much as they want from the closet. But the group discourages "cherry picking" or acquiring used clothing for resale.