By Anthony St. Clair

There’s a good chance you know the white-on-red logo of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. You might drop off items at one of St. Vinnie’s 11 donation centers or shop at one of their secondhand stores. But SVdP has also provided direct, on-the-ground benefits to Lane County since 1953 — and in ways you may never have heard of. In 2021 alone, SVdP assisted 274 veterans, served 303,302 meals, and provided affordable housing to 3,867 people. As the nonprofit begins its 70th year of service, they continue to innovate their services to meet community needs. Yet the ethos and organization underlying SVdP isn’t new.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society, named after the patron saint of poverty, began in Paris in 1833, and first came to the U.S. in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1846. In 1950s Lane County, SVdP generally assisted people with food or rent through funds raised from a retail store on West Broadway, where the Parkade is now. That mission and overall setup didn’t change much — until about two-thirds of the area’s mills and related businesses shut down in the 1980s, and local unemployment skyrocketed.

“People who used to donate were suddenly asking for assistance,” says McDonald.

SVdP staff and board members agreed on the areas they would focus on: emergency services (such as food boxes, housing, beds, and rent assistance), job creation, and developing affordable housing. They turned to the waste stream as a way forward, and worked with the county to have someone sorting out sellable items at the Glenwood transfer site. Over time, SVdP expanded and today it has waste stream diversion operations as far south as the San Francisco Bay Area. SVdP developed methods to safely remove freon, repair or scrap appliances, and recycle block styrofoam.

“A cubic foot of styrofoam weighs three-quarters of a pound,” McDonald explains. “In 2021, we recycled 60 tons of styrofoam. That’s enough to fill Autzen Stadium six feet deep.”

Among other things, SVdP recently restarted its pet bed manufacturing and recycled paraffin division (bricks of wax) again, and soon will expand a mattress-recycling enterprise that is already the nation’s largest when Oregon’s new mattress-stewardship program is implemented in 2024. SVdP pioneered mattress recycling, and currently processes up to 40,000 mattresses monthly at three sites in California and will begin recycling an additional 20,000 mattresses here. SVdP’s thrift stores process 90 to 120 tons of books, kitchenware, TVs, and even cars each day. These services help SVdP fulfill its second priority: creating jobs.

“In 1984, we had 27 employees,” says McDonald. “Today, between Oregon and California, we have 700 employees.”

Since the 1990s, SVdP has also invested in affordable housing, developing over 1,600 units of affordable housing over the last 30 years, plus innovative manufactured home fabrication. SVdP deals with on-the-ground, immediate emergency services, too. During the summer evacuation of Oakridge and Westfir due to the Cedar Creek Fire, SVdP mobilized to relocate people from SVdP’s Oakridge area facilities to Eugene. Teams also coordinated the delivery of emergency food, water, and other supplies.

“There was a large need for wheelchairs, walkers, and canes,” says McDonald. “We not only could quickly access resources, but get it transported to the fairgrounds for fast use.”

With more than half a century’s experience helping people throughout Lane County, the SVdP team has continued to evolve to meet the community’s needs with nimble innovation and caring service.

St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, 541/687-5820, 2890 Chad Dr.,