Meeting people in poverty face-to-face is the fundamental first action of Vincentians, as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are called. Strengthened by prayer and reflection, they go two by two to relieve human need, always beginning with a personal visit.

This makes Vincentians a primary and informed source of knowledge about the faces and places of poverty in the United States today. Seeking to grasp this picture, St. Anthony Messenger interviewed Sheila Gilbert, current president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, at her modest home on the east side of Indianapolis. The lifelong Hoosier has been the soft-spoken, direct, and knowledgeable leader of the 172,000 Vincentians in this nation since September 2011 and has been an active member of the society for 30 years. She is the first woman to head the society in the United States.

Elsewhere in this issue you can track the numbers. Gilbert prefers to describe situations.

What It’s Like to Be Poor

A man struggling with poverty offered Gilbert an analogy to describe his situation. The childhood entertainment of capturing grasshoppers in a glass jar with holes in the lid has some predictable stages. “When you first capture the grasshopper, it jumps and jumps and jumps, trying to get out, banging its head against the lid,” recalls Gilbert. “But the longer the grasshopper’s in there, the less high it jumps, the less it tries, until finally it just sits on the bottom. That’s what it is to be in poverty long-term. After a while, you just can’t bang your head anymore. You just sit there!”

That story moves Gilbert to a two-fold conclusion: “We have to take the lid off the jar! To keep teaching people to jump and encouraging them to jump when all they do is hit their head doesn’t make any sense! So we have to take the lid off the jar as well as help the grasshopper to jump again.” Urgent care of the symptoms of poverty needs to be coupled with a cure for the epidemic, Gilbert concludes.

Read the full article in St. Anthony’s Messenger.  (Link no longer active)It will be well worth your time as she describes the situations of people trapped in the glass jar of poverty and offers insights into what needs to change.

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