Every mile counts at Friends of the Poor Walk

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CRANSTON — Every dollar raised by the hundreds of people who walked for the poor last month in Cranston went directly to the poor.

“There are so many people out there who need our help,” said Renee Brissette, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Rhode Island.

On Sept. 29, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Rhode Island hosted its 12th annual SVDP Rhode Island Walk at Garden City Center in Cranston. Hundreds of St. Vincent de Paul members and volunteers from across the state participated in a one-mile walk around the shopping center.

“It’s a good turnout today. We have a lot of support, and it’s nice to see a lot of young people out here too,” said Tom Walsh, a volunteer from St. Joseph Church in West Warwick. Walsh has been a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for 30 years.

“Every penny we raise goes directly to help people,” Walsh said.

Over the years, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Rhode Island has provided approximately $2.5 million in food and over $1.5 million in direct assistance to Rhode Island residents in need. Members have volunteered a combined 80,000 hours and traveled more than 50,000 miles in helping Rhode Islanders regardless of their religion, race or national origin.

“We help the needy. We help the poor and we give a lot away,” said Jim Martufi, a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Help Church in Burrillville who has been a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for 25 years.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 40 million Americans — about 12 percent of the population — live in poverty. The poverty rate for children under age 18 is 18 percent. According to U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in Rhode Island is 13.4 percent.

“As soon as I walked into the first meeting, I understood that there are many people who need our help,” said Anne Landry, a Society of St. Vincent de Paul member who attended the Sept. 29 walk with her husband, David, and other relatives.

“We’ve come to every walk,” said Landry, a parishioner of St. Mary Church in Charlestown.

The Friends of the Poor Walk began in 2008 on the 175th anniversary of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s founding. The 2018 Walk was held at 239 locations around the United States, attracted more than 25,000 participants, and raised more than $3.4 million to help people in need.

Funds raised from the walk help to provide food, clothing, medicine, housing assistance, transportation and utility costs, job training and placement, and disaster relief to those in need. Each Walk is organized and run by its own local SVDP Conference or Council.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Rhode Island Walk was sponsored by NBC-10, Garden City Center, Bank Newport, Relevant Radio and several other local businesses and organizations. The festivities at Garden City Center included music, face-painting, games and food tasting.

“There are so many youths and young adults here, and in today’s society, that is such a sign of hope,” Brissette said. “It’s nice that we can all come together and take this opportunity to spend some time with each other.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in Paris, France in 1833 by a 21-year-old college student and five friends. The society has grown to become one of the world’s largest charitable organizations. Today, about 800,000 men and women provide person-to-person help to the poor in 155 countries on five continents.

The United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1845, in St. Louis, Missouri. In Rhode Island, the Society began serving residents 165 years ago at SS. Peter and Paul Church, almost 20 years before the Diocese of Providence was established in 1872.

“A lot of people don’t think that there are people in need outside of areas like the Amazon, but we have poverty right here in Rhode Island. We have people in need right here in our own country,” said John Paul Brissette, 18, a youth leader in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Brissette, who is the son of the executive director, is a member of the “Next Gen” group of young people in Rhode Island who are affiliated with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He and other Next Gen members Brad Hutchison, 17, and Addie Brewster, 16, took part in the walk.

“We’re putting the work in,” Brewster said.