2017-02-02 / Front Page

Giving back

Rummage sale supports students, struggling families
By Anthony Aloisio
Contributing Writer


Bob Bilodeau, left, and Ray Gagnon are volunteers with the St. Vincent de Paul rummage sale in downtown Biddeford. Gagnon has served the St. Vincent de Paul Society since 1968, he said. His father, Adolphe Bilodeau, was among the founding members of the society and his mother, Delvina Bilodeau, also volunteered. Below, Ffgures for sale, among many other home goods items, at the rummage sale. Bilodeau said the sale typically has need for more home goods. Some weeks, including Feb. 1, sale patrons can buy a bag full of clothes for $5. (Anthony Aloisio photos) Bob Bilodeau, left, and Ray Gagnon are volunteers with the St. Vincent de Paul rummage sale in downtown Biddeford. Gagnon has served the St. Vincent de Paul Society since 1968, he said. His father, Adolphe Bilodeau, was among the founding members of the society and his mother, Delvina Bilodeau, also volunteered. Below, Ffgures for sale, among many other home goods items, at the rummage sale. Bilodeau said the sale typically has need for more home goods. Some weeks, including Feb. 1, sale patrons can buy a bag full of clothes for $5. (Anthony Aloisio photos) BIDDEFORD – A local charity group, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, has operated a rummage sale to benefit local students and struggling families for more than 70 years. The sale, housed in the basement of St. James Hall on South Street, takes donations all week via a drop location on the side of the building. The goods are sorted and sold at a weekly sale, which happens 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays. The sale is organized and worked by volunteers, and all proceeds benefit either struggling local families or other charity causes.

“It’s to help our community, and those who are less fortunate,” said Donna Bilodeau, a volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul, who manages the sale. “Sometimes they just fall on hard times. They’re working and all, but they just can’t make ends meet. And it helps to just be able to hand somebody a blanket, or a pair of shoes. It’s only because of the donations of others that we can do that. It’s people helping people.”

Part of the way the group works is to honor $20 vouchers that are given to families in need by Good Shepard Parish or by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“For that voucher they can get $20 worth of items that they need for their home,” Bilodeau said. “We’re not reimbursed for that, that’s something we do. If someone’s been in a fire, or anything like that, they come in and choose what they need.”


Madeline Boucher, left, and Nancy McClintock, in the small room reserved for children's toys, puzzles and games. McClintock manages the toys room, and Boucher manages the sale of home goods. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Madeline Boucher, left, and Nancy McClintock, in the small room reserved for children's toys, puzzles and games. McClintock manages the toys room, and Boucher manages the sale of home goods. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Beyond supporting individual families, the society also supports greater charitable efforts.

“In January, we’ll sit down and choose a few organizations that we want to make a goal of giving to,” Bilodeau said. “That way we’re not bombarded by everybody asking for money. Obviously we’re not bringing in millions of dollars.”

The society works closely with Good Shepard Parish, but is independent from them, Bilodeau said. Most of the charitable efforts that St. Vincent de Paul supports are efforts coordinated by the parish.

Additionally, the society makes a yearly donation to St. James School. According to Bob Bilodeau, president of the society and husband to Donna Bilodeau, that donation began as a scholarship program for families that couldn’t afford to send their kids to the school. The Bilodeaus preferred not to share how much the donations were for, but Bob Bilodeau said that, while it usually wouldn’t cover all of a student’s tuition, it would be a significant help.

While St. Vincent de Paul Society is a national organization, the local Biddeford group was created in June 1941, according to long-serving volunteer Ray Gagnon. Although the group began just before the United States’ entry into World War II, Gagnon said that the timing of the group’s beginning was not connected to the war.

“At that time there was only St. Joseph’s Church parishioners,” Gagnon said. “It was started by a group of men that wanted to take care of the poor people of the parish. My father (Adolphe Gagnon) was one of them. They were assessed a dollar a month.”

Gagnon said that the dollar per month in dues created a fund – around $50 per month, he said – that the society could use to help needy families. This was prior to the start of the rummage sale. Families would get connected with the society through word-ofmouth.

“People who needed aid, or food, or couldn’t pay their rent for the week, then they could help them out,” he said. “They used to interview them, and find out what their need was.”

The rummage sale started shortly after the society organized, Gagnon said, when women from the parish started joining, including Gagnon’s mother, Delvina Gagnon.

Gagnon said he joined the society in 1968 when his father died, leaving an office vacant that Gagnon then served to fill. One of Gagnon’s responsibilities after he joined was to coordinate the charitable giving of the society with local grocery stores. When they determined that a person or family was in need, he said, he would visit a grocery store and ask them to give food to the family, and arranged to pay the store directly.

Donna Bilodeau said this arrangement of getting needed goods or services directly to families is typical for the society and for the parish. The parish runs a charity effort called “Outreach,” Bilodeau said.

“That’s for, if you need oil or your light bill paid, stuff like that, then they don’t give you the money but they’ll make a check to the electric company, or whoever is delivering the oil,” she said.

Bilodeau said that, although all of the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers currently are members of the Catholic community and the Good Shepherd Parish is Catholic, their charity efforts and the rummage sale is nondenominational.

“I had a woman come in the other week and ask if the sale was just for Catholics,” Bilodeau said. “I said ‘I’m not going to turn you into a Catholic just because you buy a shirt.’”

When asked if she had any messages for people who donate to the sale, Bilodeau said, “thank them very much.” She also said that nearly all donations are useful. One exception, Bilodeau said, is prescription medications. When the sale receives medication she has to get rid of them, because they expire and they can otherwise be dangerous.

“I think one of my workers ended up getting stuck by one of those pens for diabetes,” she said. “Nothing happened, but she was worried for a while.”

Bob Bilodeau said that he gets the best value he can out of donations received for the sale. When an item shows up that appears to have some special value, he said, he’ll research it to see if I can be sold outside the rummage sale. One example Bob Bilodeau gave was some old issues of Popular Mechanics magazine, which turned out to be collectible, that he was able to sell for $80. Other valuable donations are even more straightforward, Bilodeau said.

“One time there was two-hundred-something dollars in the pockets of a coat,” he said.

In that case Bilodeau said he tried to find the coat’s owner, but when he couldn’t, he put the money into the sale’s fund.

Donna Bilodeau said that it’s no requirement to be catholic to volunteer for the society, and they take on volunteers at any time.

“I just had a woman come in last week and ask about volunteering,” she said.

Gagnon, for his part, has been volunteering for nearly five decades and continues to enjoy the work. According to Bob Bilodeau, Gagnon has served in every office of the society. Gagnon lives in Saco, and he is 90 years old.

“I don’t mind doing it,” he said. “As long as I can do it I tell them I’ll help them.”

FMI

The St. Vincent de Paul rummage sale is held 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. every Wednesday at St. James Hall on South Street in Biddeford. Items may be donated via a drop location at the building.

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