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LOWELL -- This week, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul formally opened its newest, largest store in the archdiocese, which will help the society further its charitable mission.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) is an autonomous, self-funded charity affiliated with the Church. The society operates five thrift stores throughout the archdiocese, with locations in Lawrence, Lynn, Plainville, and Stoughton. The stores' revenue supports the programs of the archdiocese's 160 local SVdP conferences. These programs include funds for rent and utility assistance, a holiday meals program, and a parochial school trust fund. Additionally, the society can provide vouchers for its stores to people in need of clothing.
"Generally, we're throughout the archdiocese trying to help any and all those we can who call and ask for our help," Richard LaPorte said in an Oct. 30 interview. LaPorte has been a Vincentian for over 50 years and is the chairman of the committee for the store in Lowell.
Located at 1488 Middlesex Street, the new store is the first SVdP thrift store to be built completely from the ground up. It is twice the size of the other stores, measuring about 7,000 square feet, compared to their approximately 3,000 square feet.
"Hopefully, this will be as successful as all the other stores in the archdiocese," LaPorte said.
The original Lowell thrift store on Merrimack Street was purchased in the late 1980s. A second building was purchased next door to it a decade later. Columns inside the building made the space difficult to use, and there was no parking lot.
LaPorte said that they had been working toward opening a new store for over 10 years. They finally found a suitable site two years ago. In addition to having a larger building, the new location includes a parking lot in the front.
"I'm awed by it because it's one big unit as opposed to the other store, which we kind of took two buildings and joined them together, and there was that clustered feel to it. This one is wide open, and it's really beautiful," LaPorte said.
Christopher Trudeau, chief operating officer of the Boston SVdP council, said the society "will use (the store) as a stepping stone to help even more people" in the Lowell area.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all the SVdP thrift stores were closed from March 17 until Aug. 18. The new store finally opened on Nov. 2.
Speaking the day after the opening, Trudeau said that the store had "a steady day" and "all in all a great opening." People who were accustomed to shopping in the previous location were "very happy" and "almost overwhelmed" by the difference in size.
"Everybody liked the openness and the airiness. It's quite a change from the other one," Trudeau said.
He said the "most surprising thing" was that many people came to the store who had not previously been patrons of the old store on Merrimack Street. Some of them had not even been aware of its existence.
The stores accept donations of clothing and housewares. To donate furniture, donors can go online to arrange a residential pickup. Donated items are organized in Stoughton, where the society keeps an administrative office and storage, and then distributed between the stores.
The coronavirus pandemic has prevented the society's usual practice of conducting home visits to assess clients' needs, since the average age of its members is in the late 60s.
LaPorte said that they are bracing themselves for the "Herculean task" of helping people who are facing eviction or foreclosure due to the end of the state's moratorium in October.
"We're doing everything we can to be prepared to help any and all those we can afford to do," he said.
Trudeau, who has been involved with SVdP for 28 years, said he is a "firm believer" in divine providence.
"Things just work out; they always seem to since I've been here. I don't have any reason to suspect this will be any different," he said.
More information about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Boston, can be found at www.svdpboston.com/index.php.