Pontiac — Sometimes mercy doesn’t take much, just a warm smile and a caring heart.
Setting an example for his flock in the days leading up to Christmas, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron spent the afternoon Dec. 22 serving hot meals and handing out toys and warm clothes to hundreds of poor and homeless people in Pontiac.
It was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by volunteers and clients alike at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Matchan Nutrition Center.
“I just think he’s a wonderful representation of the Church. He’s a servant of the people,” said Larry Griffin, director of donation relations for the society’s Detroit chapter.
Griffin said it meant a lot to have the spiritual leader of the area’s 1.3 million Catholics leading by example in the Year of Mercy.
“He walks in here with a smile on his face, shaking hands as he went through, and the one nice thing about him as I was watching him give out food: with everyone it was eye-to-eye contact with a smile. That’s just the wonderful thing about him: He’s always got a smile on his face, and he’s here for us,” Griffin said.
It was the third time the archbishop has taken a turn serving meals at the Pontiac soup kitchen, which serves approximately 500 people twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, said Fr. Stephen Pullis, the archbishop’s priest-secretary.
Fr. Pullis said the archbishop enjoys the interaction with people, saying it’s a “nice change of pace” given the numerous duties of his office. “He looks forward to it,” Fr. Pullis said.
Guests at the soup kitchen also expressed their gratitude for the archbishop’s presence and the work of St. Vincent de Paul. Linda Ferguson, 72, who has been homeless since April 2015 and has spent the past eight months “sleeping in different places,” became emotional when asked about the society’s aid.
“This is the most wonderful program I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Ferguson, who said she grew up Catholic in Detroit and whose father owned a meat packing company on Gratiot. “Nobody wants to have anything to do with you when you don’t have any money.”
Ferguson said she lost her inheritance and savings when a business associate made some bad investment deals, and never would have anticipated becoming homeless.
“Right now, I’m living in a home that has no electricity and no water because nobody knows me and you can’t just walk up to a stranger and say ‘help me,’” said Ferguson, adding she has permission from the homeowners to sleep there temporarily. “What happened to me happened so fast. Anybody can become homeless.”
Griffin said those like Ferguson and others benefit greatly from St. Vincent de Paul’s many programs and services, including its 13 Detroit-area thrift stores. In addition to financing much of the society’s other charitable works, the stores annually give away more than $400,000 in clothing, shoes and furniture to those in need.
At the soup kitchen, Archbishop Vigneron helped hand out many of those items, including hats, scarves, blankets and sleeping bags. But the most important gift, he said, is the love that Christ offers through his followers.
“I’m not sure everyone who comes here to eat has got some big plan for success,” the archbishop said, “but at least they have fellowship and warm food to eat.”
St. Vincent de Paul
To learn more about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or to donate, visit www.svdpdetroit.org or call (877) 788-4623.