While the aid St Vincent de Paul Warrnambool provided in its early years has changed from wood, cigarettes and newspapers, its volunteer efforts and genuine care and concern remains a staple of the charitable organisation.
The Warrnambool St Vincent de Paul branch celebrates 80 years in the city in August and will hold a celebratory mass and lunch on Sunday to mark the milestone.
Victorian St Vincent de Paul president Michael Quinn and state secretary Julia Cambage will join about 80 members to celebrate the achievement.
Warrnambool resident and long-time member Jack Daffy has seen the city's welfare landscape change over the 56 years he's been involved.
He said prior to St Vinnies starting in 1942 there was only a couple of other charities or social services in the city before World War I.
He said there was a benevolence society through the Warrnambool hospital which later became the Warrnambool ladies benevolent society in 1867 which provided food, clothing and "medical treatment for the distressed". Around the 1890s Mr Daffy said a Presbyterian minister and "noted social worker" was looking after the "Merrivale destitute and unmarried mothers".
Apart from church clergy who also provided community assistance, St Vincent de Paul was one of the city's first support services, he said.
"In their wisdom the church boss at St Joseph's decided they needed St Vinnies and they called a meeting in August of 1942," Mr Daffy said.
"A fair number of people turned up and a fella named George O'Grady became president and two other main people involved in those days were Fred and Charles Flett.
"Their main help at that particular time was rent, food, accommodation and wood. We had rationing in those days and they were visiting the men's ward at the hospital."
He said there was a ward of 20 men who "wandered here during the Depression" and wound up at the hospital.
"Because of rationing, St Vinnies was instrumental in using coupons the men provided to buy clothing and pyjamas for them and attempting to get them moved on because there was no social services in those days as far as money was concerned.
"Interestingly enough St Vinnies provided smokes and papers", so too did the hospital's foundation the Archibald Trust also raised money to buy cigarettes for patients, he said.
Mr Daffy said after a period of time St Vinnies members dwindled but in 1952 "they decided to kick it on again".
He said its 30 members would visit residents at the city's aged care facilities a couple of times a week, providing them with shaves and haircuts and the Sunday paper. They'd also visit Brierly psychiatric hospital to deliver smokes, lollies and comics to patients.
In 1966 there was a request by Father Brosnan to visit Cooriemungle Prison Farm once a month. The prison farm, established in 1938 provided accommodation for 60 low-risk prisoners.
For others in need, the branch purchased and distributed 60 tonnes of wood a year to heat homes and Mr Daffy said as time went on, around 1984, oil "became fashionable" and became the primary heating source.
Over the years and with the assistance of Koroit and Port Fairy farmers large quantities of onions and potatoes were sent to welfare places in Melbourne and within the region.
In 1966 they rented a shop in Lava Street, opposite St Joseph's Church, for three pounds a week. It opened three days a week and its weekly takings were more than 30 pounds.
In 1968 St Vincent de Paul moved to its existing Fairy Street store which it bought for $24,000.
He said proceeds from op shops provided funds for its work, as did some local philanthropic trusts.
Mr Daffy said members John Moore, Paddy Dalton and Jack Kearney were instrumental in the purchase of Fairy Street.
"It was men only. If they needed assistance for clothing for women they would go and recruit someone from the church," he said. "It was a couple of years after that they asked the first lady to help them in the shop in Fairy Street. They didn't rush around too madly (signing up the women)."
The charity provided financial and physical assistance for families and farmers hit by the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.
In 1989 St Vincent de Paul Warrnambool was split into three independent groups, determined by city church boundaries, run by St Joseph's, St Pius and Our Lady Help of Christian parishes.
The same year they built a holiday home in Japan Street which is used by people from across Victoria who have been recommended by welfare agencies.
Over the years St Vinnies has visited thousands of homes, paid for groceries and food parcels, rent and accommodation, funeral accounts, home appliances, furniture, clothing and school uniforms.
Some families have remained long-term clients of the society with some seeking aid for more than two decades. In 2012 Mr Daffy said single-parent families, people with alcohol, drug and gambling problems, loneliness and domestic violence were becoming more prevalent.
Vinnies today has 40 volunteers across the three parish groups with members visiting homes. The pandemic put a stop to these but Mr Daffy is hoping they'll start up again as they're the most useful tool in gauging what's most needed. "The members find out what they need, and chances are, there are many times when people call up looking for assistance, when you get into their homes you see there are other things they need that they haven't asked for," he said.
"I've seen kids sleeping on floors so they need a bed and a mattress but food was more important in their eyes at that stage, so they wouldn't ask for both. You find out what they want and help them get what they need. There's no discrimination."
The former Warrnambool mayor said despite changing times and an influx in the variety of welfare and disability providers, challenges remained and people continued to seek help. "In the past people were unable to get work," Mr Daffy said. "Now there's the element who can't work or have mental illnesses and drugs. You can't help them until they want to help themselves and the facilities are there if they want help. I think one of the problems for some of the older people living on their own who are regularly looking for help is loneliness."
He said some of the saddest situations he'd seen were custody-related family issues. "While they've always been there, one way or another, I think it's got worse with broken relationships and hence the need you see with Brophy and McKillop looking for carers for kids."
He said homelessness was another major problem. "There were probably 10 to 15 people in hotels last night due to homelessness and the lack of and cost of rental properties," he said. In the past month St Vinnies received 170 phone calls for assistance for accommodation and food with rising living costs hitting budgets hard.
Members refer clients onto other agencies if they believe they can help, such as the Salvation Army and Brophy for housing, while Warrnambool and District Food Share provides food hampers. Vinnies distribute supermarket vouchers enabling people to buy items not included in the parcels such as cleaning or other household grocery products.
Mr Daffy has done all the roles and said the last 56 years had flown. He still dedicates about eight hours a week to the charity.
"It keeps me occupied rather than sitting at home talking to myself," he laughed. "I'll be 90 in December if I make it."
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