By Becky Aubut
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Come rain or shine, the Attleboro Spring Wildlife Sanctuary at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro will come alive on May 6, as people participate in the annual Family Walk “Helping Our Neighbors” fund-raiser organized by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. One hundred percent of the donations will benefit individuals and families living in the greater Attleboro area towns who turn to the St. Vincent de Paul Society for food, clothing, utilities or rent.
Peter Kortright, a member of the St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield conference of the Attleboro district’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and in his second year as co-chairman of the annual walk, said that SVdP societies in the United States host an annual fund-raiser walk, and while many take place in early fall, the Attleboro walk takes place every spring.
“It’s a common fund-raiser for the St. Vincent de Paul organization,” said Kortright. “It’s a family walk helping our neighbors. In the Attleboro district, [the walk] is the only explicit fund-raiser we have, other than money that parishioners donate through their parishes.”
There are 10 different conferences of SVdP in the Attleboro district providing almost $200,000 or more in money back to needy individuals and families, and the walk raises about $25,000 of that total amount, said Kortright: “It’s a very large component of our fund raising. I know that we would not be able to help many families [without it].”
Much of the money is allocated towards paying rent of those families who run short, or find themselves going into housing for the first time and need help getting their first rent payment together — these are some of the individuals who benefit from the SVdP fund-raising efforts.
“St. Vincent de Paul is there for them, on an as-needed basis,” said Kortright.
The walk offers myriad ways of sponsorship for the walk. A business can pay for a sign that will be placed along the walk; there are different sponsorship levels that will be acknowledged as silver, gold or platinum; businesses can also sponsor to have their business featured on the Attleboro’s St. Vincent de Paul website, along with being featured on T-shirts being made available for those who register for the walk.
The walk offers visibility for businesses, said Kortright. Individuals can pay a flat rate of $15 to register to walk, and can also add to that base rate of $15 with their own sponsors.
“Like many other fund-raising walks, individuals are encouraged to get pledges from friends, family and associates to help them raise a little bit more. For the walk, maybe they can raise an additional $15 or $20 from a contributor.”
As for the actual walk itself, “it’s not a long walk,” said Kortright. “It’s a very small loop around a trail at the Attleboro Springs of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. It’s behind La Salette, off the left-hand side, just off to the left of where the Stations of the Cross are, there are some woods and a nature trail that the Audubon Society maintains, and that’s where folks walk. It’s about a half-mile trail.
“We encourage people to walk about it multiple times. We’re thankful for the individuals who show up and pay their personal fee, which is a contribution that adds up.”
Most of the work that the Vincentians do often goes unrecognized because it’s done quietly and without fanfare, said Kortright: “Families or individuals who find themselves in need have very few places to go, and oftentimes they’re already on public assistance, or struggling in one way or another through employment or health issues. Oftentimes the stories we hear are pretty sad ones. We do our best to respond in a Christian, non-judgmental way.”
The main goal is to keep a roof over their head, clothes on their back and food on the table, said Kortright. Currently SVdP is working on changing the system so that families can have more opportunities to avoid and stay out of poverty. Nationally SVdP is working on systemic change by advocating through state legislatures to maintain levels of support for the homeless, that they are adequately taken care of; and arguing for support for programs that provide health care and supplemental food.
“There are very compelling stories and we work hard to serve them,” said Kortright.
Kortright knows that families are very busy these days, but hopes they take some time off on the morning of May 6 to help their fellow neighbors in need. Walk-in registrations are welcome. Students from Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro will be helping out, and face painting, refreshments and snacks will be offered.
“We know families have a lot on their calendars. We’re praying for good weather this year with the Holy Spirit, so we’ll get a good number of walkers. It’s a fun thing to do. Plants are blooming, frogs are croaking; it’s a wonderful way to take a break from your daily grind. I hope that people will put it on their calendar. Just by showing up, you’ll get a little bit of exercise, see some friends, and that going home you know you’ve helped out.
The Family Walk will be held on May 6, with registration and the kick-off beginning at 9 a.m. with the walk ending at noon.