Wednesday, September 28, 2011

St. Vincent de Paul and the mystery of the missing radios

Yesterday was the "heavenly birthday" of one of my favourite saints, St. Vincent de Paul. What's not to love about a guy who was captured by pirates and lived to tell the tale? He also lived to the ripe old age of 79, wrote thousands of letters, looked after the poor of Paris, and started numerous schools and orphanages during and after the thirty year's war in France. Legend has it that he subbed in for a galley slave (you remember, the guys chained to the oars in movies like Ben Hur?) so he could go home and visit his family for a few days. He's also the man responsible for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, with which I volunteer every Thursday that I'm able.

Last night there was a special gathering of volunteers to celebrate the feast day of St. Vincent, and I was "commissioned" to continue in my work in the Clothing Room, after having worked there for at least four years. I've lost track of how long I've been sorting clothes and chatting with our clients, but it has been an education for middle-class me. The most important thing I've learned is something that the Archbishop touched on in his sermon last night -- that people need to be seen, recognized and appreciated for who they are. And when we take time to see, recognize and appreciate the poor, a small but priceless bond is formed that is hard to explain unless you've experienced it. All I can say is that the poor I meet at the Clothing Room have given me far more than I've ever given them.

I appreciate my time at the Clothing Room because it is full of humour and camaraderie. Whether it's the volunteers I'm working with, or the groups of homeless guys who bring their friends to visit, there's a lot of hope and joy even as people are going through hard times. We all do what we can to help each other, whether it's handing out dry socks or a few words of encouragement... or puzzling over the case of the missing radio.

Last week at the Clothing Room, I went to turn on our background music, and the radio wasn't there. I had to chuckle. It's not the first time this has happened; our radios seem to go missing on a regular basis. Not that they are special, desirable or valuable -- we get them from SSVP's small appliance department so that we have music to listen to as we sort clothing. We usually pick the oldest or ugliest one that has been donated to make it less of a target.

What was funny was that this time, the radio was really ugly, it didn't have very good sound, and it had been attached to the counter it was sitting on with cable that had been nailed down, where it had stayed for over a month. It was such a sad-looking thing that I thought we had finally found one that no one could possibly be induced to steal.

I was wrong. How or when it vanished, or on whose watch, no one can guess. My writer's mind would love to tell the stories of the people/person who manages to lift a radio in the middle of room full of "free shoppers." Do they create a diversion and sneak it away when we're otherwise involved? Do they need the radio, or are they just pulling one over on us? What do they do with the radio? Do they realize that we would give them one for free if they just asked? It would almost be interesting to install a little spy cam to track our radios, but really, they're not that important, just a curious mystery.

So, we asked Emile, who has been managing the Distribution Centre lately, for another radio. Our new one is a cheap plastic clock radio, and this time, determined that it will stay put, our friend Emile not only nailed it down, but also affixed it to the counter with a LOT of cellophane packing tape. If someone wants to steal it now, they'll end up with a cheap plastic STICKY radio.

I suspect, however, that stickiness won't put off a thief. This month's Reader's Digest carries an article about shoplifters, and about how many of them have a disorder which is much like an addiction. They become addicted to the adrenaline rush of stealing -- a common characteristic among people with the impulse control disorder known as kleptomania. So whoever gets our latest radio will get a real rush through foiling wire, nails, tape, a bunch of busy volunteers, and Emile. I wonder how long until this radio disappears? Not that it matters. What matters is that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is alive and well, and is sharing donated radios and other things, just as St. Vincent himself would have were he with us now.

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