Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Vinnie's needs YOU

Times are tough -- tougher than usual -- up in Ontonagon County, the Upper Michigan locale that is the prototype for the rugged and remote Porcupine County in my mystery novels.

Making a living has always been difficult there. Back in 2007 when everyone elsewhere seemed to be enjoying the late bubble, 11.8 per cent of the Ontonagon population lived below the poverty line, and many of the rest just above it. Last November the county's largest employer, the Smurfit-Stone paper mill, shut down for lack of demand and soon filed for bankruptcy.

Some 150 mill workers were laid off and countless more in supporting businesses, such as pulpwood loggers, also lost their livelihood. Two months ago the unemployment rate in Ontonagon County surpassed 17 per cent and doubtless now is pushing 20 per cent.

And the winter has been one of the coldest and snowiest in decades.

Ontonagon County government is so broke that it doesn't have the resources, except for occasional grants, to serve those who are down on their luck. Plugging the gap falls to the local chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Catholic Church's international charity organization.

In Ontonagon the public face of St. Vinnie's, as it is called everywhere, is an old supermarket converted into a big thrift store full of cast-off but still usable clothes, furniture, dishes, pots and pans, books and toys. Even in better times it serves the town as a kind of Wal-Mart of secondhand goods, and everyone not only donates stuff to it but also shops there.

Behind the scenes St. Vinnie's keeps people alive. Its financial office helps pay their utility bills. Its modest food pantry provides staples for survival.

St. Vinnie's is so important to Ontonagon that a couple of years ago, when someone broke into the store and stole the meager till, $1,000, the entire town issued a collective gasp. Stealing from St. Vinnie's? Stealing from the poor? What kind of moral imbecile would do such a thing?

A few days later a local bank presented a check for the entire missing amount to the director of St. Vincent's, and the town breathed a sigh of relief. Kids would still have stout boots and warm coats for winter. Shut-ins would still have their 10-cent paperbacks to stave off loneliness. People could still replace broken crockery with gently used cups and plates.

St. Vinnie's may be nominally a Catholic organization, but it is so effective and efficient at ministering to everybody, whatever their creed, that the local Protestant churches hold fund-raisers for it and pass along the proceeds.

Now St. Vinnie's is stretched ever tighter. It needs help, a lot of it.

A friend of mine who is a fellow Summer Person in Ontonagon has been putting the arm on other seasonal residents to contribute to St. Vinnie's efforts for the destitute. The money is helping, but so much more is needed.

And so I am putting the arm on you -- that's you at your expensive computer -- to help out, too. You're lucky to have an income when so many Americans are losing theirs.

Send your check to:

St. Vincent de Paul
205 Quartz Street
Ontonagon, MI 49953

If you like, specify where you'd like the money to go -- helping with utilities, the food pantry, or maybe where it can be best used.

Or if you'd rather scatter your beneficence closer to home, look up your local St. Vincent's, Salvation Army or other charity.

Doing good will make you feel good. And it's tax deductible.


  1. All of us locals applaud your post.

    You couldn't have described Vinnie's better. If you can't find it there, you don't need it. I can't tell you how many times I've found new shoes there that fit me perfectly. And it's the first place I look for books and clothes. We've found both computer monitors there. And if you pay close enough attention to what's on the shelves you can buy just about ANY thing there.

    It's best to go one Tuesday or Thursday afternoons because that's when John Roberts visits, he's the unofficial greeter. If you remember about 5 years ago, he was the cashier. He's wheelchair bound and wheels around the store visiting with everyone there. I can't tell you how many times I've searched for Jeremy and found him sitting on a chair or couch (that's for sale) visiting with John.

    I think Vinnie's has helped all of us at one time or another. Our family personally was helped a couple years ago when Jeremy's prescription med wasn't covered on his prescription plan and he needed it desperately and we didn't have the money for it.

    We were all in shock when Vinnie's was broken into. It is WORSE than having one of the churches stolen from. It's sacred to all of us. You really have to be desperate (or a teenager looking for drug money) to break a plate glass window to get into Vinnie's. And many of us rallied and donated way more than we normally do, things we would have saved for our own garage sale. I also know some who donated their one of a kind hand made crafts that they would have normally sold at the local craft shows. We all did what we could to show ourselves and the community that what just a few did doesn't reflect how we all are.

  2. Ginger sold me -- I'm sending a check in today.

  3. Anonymous ~

    Thank you!

    We can use all the help we can up here.