Eliyahu Gasson | Opinions Editor
Most people would probably pause if you asked them to walk around Downtown Pittsburgh at 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday night to hand food out to homeless people — espe- cially when the temperature outside is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The average under- grad would probably prefer to study indoors with a cup of hot cocoa and a warm blanket.
But the members of the Duquesne Univer- sity chapter of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVdP) are in their element.
The group meets every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in the Laval House on Duquesne’s cam- pus. By 7:40 p.m. they’ve packed up two wagons, each carrying 15 hot meals, around 20 water bottles, and an assortment of toi- letries, snacks and clothes.
Justin Clark, a junior at Duquesne, is a volunteer with SVdP. He says that he and his colleague, fifth-year pharmacy major Mi- chael Latorre, work together with the Hogan Dining Hall staff to prepare meals for distri- bution to homeless people downtown.
“I’ve always had this heart to serve,” Clark said. “I can think back to when I was a little kid and I would see homeless people on the street outside of PNC Park and having this longing to help.”
Once all the meals, snacks and supplies are packed into both carts, co-president Bethany Smith begins the group’s intro- ductory meeting with some ground rules to make sure everyone stays safe and respectful on their route.
Members of the SVdP are told to offer op- tions to those in need whenever they can so that they maintain the humanity of the peo- ple they serve.
“One thing I remember, particularly be- tween nights we go out, is that first things first, homeless people are people too,” said Latorre.
Volunteers should not crowd people whom they are assisting and should always keep their eyes and ears open and let their group leader know if something suspicious is going on.
“We’ve definitely had situations downtown where we felt slightly unsafe or something’s happened across the street,” Smith said. “But I think for the most part, we’re safe.”
Clark shares Smith’s opinion on the group’s safety while they are downtown.
“We’ve never had a situation that we can’t either handle or get away from safely,” Smith said.
After reviewing the rules, the officers in the group introduce themselves to any new members. They then bow their heads and pray for a safe and productive evening of helping those in need. They then make their way outside where they split into two groups and make their way downtown from the Bluff.
Smith’s group breaks off from the other, led by Latorre, at the intersection of Forbes Ave. and Grant St. Smith’s group makes their way down Fifth Ave. and stops at Mar- ket Square, where they will meet Latorre’s group, who take charge along Forbes Ave.
“This route has been working for us for the past year,” Smith said.
“It’s pretty limited just going down Forbes and Fifth,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of plac- es that have a lot more homeless people that we would love to cover. Unfortunately, it just becomes too dangerous.”
On this particular night, Smith’s group didn’t meet any homeless people until they
reached their rendezvous point in Market Square, where they met a homeless man who said his name was Steve.
Smith offered the man a hot meal and some of what they had in their cart. He ac- cepted and pointed the group in the direc- tion of a homeless woman who was already being helped by Latorre’s group.
Smith says that it’s normal for the streets to be a bit emptier during the colder months. “There’s the Second Avenue Commons which has a winter shelter,” Smith said.
“Hopefully that’s where some people are.” Smith says that religion and prayer are important to the SVdP, and that some of the people they meet while on route choose to
pray with them.
“We’ve had some really powerful experi-
ences with people,” Smith said. “People who are homeless are often so vulnerable, and that makes their hearts really open up.”
When Lattore’s group had finished helping the lady on Forbes Ave. the two groups re- convened and took count of how many meals they had left. Smith’s group had managed to give away one meal while Lattore’s gave five.
Smith and Latorre’s group then walked together to Wood Street Commons, a tran- sitional housing unit located at the intersec- tion of Wood St. and Third Ave., where they hope to meet more people in need and do- nate the remaining meals.
Clark said that the SVdP usually hang out around the entrance until activity starts to die down. By that time, they take their re- maining meals into the building to be dis- tributed to any residents who did not get the opportunity to meet them.
After all is said and done, the volunteers begin the walk back to Laval House along Forbes Ave and go their seperate ways.