FEEDING families in need, visiting the elderly and bereaved, and providing advice from budgeting to spiritual, is all in a day's work for a small group which recently celebrated a centenary of involvement with an international Catholic voluntary organisation.

The Howick Conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul was issued its first certificate of aggregation – affiliation to the international Christian organisation – on September 7, 1913.

It went into recession at one stage, for how long no-one knows, but received its second certificate of aggregation in September 1977.

Because of the time lapse, Howick president Patsy Dwyer has discovered that material documenting the Howick group's founding has been lost in the annals of time.

But she thinks Howick may be the second St Vincent de Paul formed in Auckland after St Benedict's in Central Auckland.

About 75 people, including members, volunteers, benefactors, four St Vincent de Paul district presidents and national president Desmond Mulhern, gathered at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Picton Street, Howick, on September 14 to acknowledge and celebrate the community work which has occurred over the years.

Parish priest Father Tony Dunn was the celebrant for Mass, followed by a lunch, which, much to Mrs Dwyer's gratitude, local restaurant Basalt chipped in with voluntary catering help. These days the group has seven members and a band of volunteers who run one of Howick's three food banks. "What would the community do without volunteers," Mrs Dwyer says. "We have been blessed in Howick over the years. We would be hard-pushed to manage without the help of volunteers and benefactors."

The food bank operates at the church every Wednesday morning, aided by contributions from the Star of the Sea School, parishioners and Howick's Wild Wheat bakery, "who supply us with masses of bread". "It's very good of them," she says.

These days the group has seven members and a band of volunteers who run one of Howick's three food banks.

"What would the community do without volunteers," Mrs Dwyer says. "We have been blessed in Howick over the years. We would be hard-pushed to manage without the help of volunteers and benefactors."

The food bank operates at the church every Wednesday morning, aided by contributions from the Star of the Sea School, parishioners and Howick's Wild Wheat bakery, "who supply us with masses of bread".

"It's very good of them," she says. nd volunteers deliver to needy families who can't get to the church.

At other times, the group can be found visiting local rest homes, elderly people in their private homes who need help with shopping or getting to appointments, or the bereaved.

With money donated by parishioners at an annual collection and from benefactors such as Lions, the group also offers those in need of financial help, such as covering rent or electricity.

"It doesn't matter how many kids there are in some of these families, it just takes a cold winter, the kids getting sick and trying to keep the house warm to put them in need."

However, counter-balancing the assistance is budget advice. And, if people need spiritual counsel, it's also forthcoming.

"It's important that we maintain a person's dignity and some do need spiritual guidance. It's not just about the food," Mrs Dwyer says.
People find out about St Vincent de Paul mainly through word of mouth, while the Citizens Advice Bureau sends some folk along to the food bank.

"Anyone can come. There are no restrictions on colour or creed; if you are in need, you are in need," Mrs Dwyer says.

"You would be surprised how many there are around Howick."

For example, some new immigrants who are waiting to get residency find themselves in limbo financially for a period and may need the rent paid in the interim, she says.

• The Society of St Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 to serve impoverished people living in the slums of Paris, France.

It was driven by Frederic Ozanam, a French lawyer, author and professor in the Sorbonne.

He was 20-years-old when the society was founded and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

St Vincent de Paul was introduced to New Zealand in Christchurch in 1867 by the French priest, Father Jean Baptiste Chataigner, of the Society of Mary.

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