St. Vincent de Paul is changing its name, has new staff

From left, Jan Westfield and Savana Hopkins inspect receipts at St. Vinny’s Ministry, the newly renamed St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Big Rapids, on Monday. Both Westfield and Hopkins were recently hired at the nonprofit center. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

BIG RAPIDS — When it came time to choose a new name for the former St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, officials with the nonprofit organization intentionally kept it simple.

The thrift shop, which is affiliated with the St. Mary-St. Paul Catholic Community of Big Rapids, recently announced it is changing its name to St. Vinny’s Ministry. The casual moniker is designed to take advantage of what is already being used by the people who know it best, said director Jan Westfield.
“I know when I talk with other people, and they talk with me, we call it St. Vinny’s. So, I thought, why not just use that name?” she said. “It’s what people know us by anyway. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.”

Although a thrift shop has been located at the site of St. Vinny’s since the early 1960s, the group has only been officially affiliated with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — an international volunteer organization in the Catholic Church — for about seven years, said St. Vinny’s board secretary Karin McKean.

For many years, well before its affiliation with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Vinny’s has worked with community organizations such as Our Brother’s Keeper, Project Starburst, Manna Pantry and others to help local people in need. Oftentimes, Westfield said, she will be contacted directly by people in poverty, struggling with everyday necessities such as heat for their home and gas for their cars.

St. Vinny’s has always been happy to lend a hand, McKean said. But recently, the organization contacted by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which asked St. Vinny’s to comply with a number of directives it has put in place at other, larger groups that carry the same name — such as making follow-up house calls with every person who receives assistance from the group.

St. Vinny’s helps out people from all over Mecosta County, and is serviced by only two paid staffers — the rest are volunteers. For the Big Rapids organization to get in line with what St. Vincent de Paul groups in much-larger cities do would be an enormous burden to bear, McKean said. So, very amicably, the two organizations agreed to part ways.

“They’re a fine organization and I’m sure they do a lot in big cities. But it’s not feasible for an organization like ours to continue doing what it’s doing with the standards they have decided they want. So, it was time to break away. We want to be our own entity to keep doing what we’re doing in this community,” Westfield said.

McKean added: “(St. Vincent de Paul’s) focus is a little different than ours, but that’s OK. They do tremendous work all over the world.”

Besides the name, there are other changes afoot at St. Vinny’s — namely, its staff.

Westfield, the chair of the St. Mary finance council and former treasurer of Newaygo County’s Big Prairie Township, just started in September. The store’s only other paid employee, store clerk Savana Hopkins, came on board in January.

Although it’s early in her tenure, Westfield said, St. Vinny’s is one of the best places she has worked.

“I love it here,” Westfield said. I look forward to coming in every day. The biggest reward is when I get a thank-you card from someone I’ve given assistance to. When I read ‘Bless you,’ it makes me so happy.

“I’ve got a great board to work with. The volunteers are great. Savana is fantastic. It’s a great place to work.”

Beyond that, McKean said, it’s “business as usual.” The store still offers the same wide variety of goods; ranging from clothing to furniture, housewares to media; at low prices. The store hours are the same; noon to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number is (231) 796-1571.

“Our changes are mostly on the back end — accounts, checks and that sort of thing. We are getting a new sign and a Facebook page. But it’s pretty much business as usual, and that’s a good thing,” McKean said.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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