Lenorris Delaney volunteers just about every day at St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift store in East St. Louis.
“I’m here from 8 or 9 to 3 Monday through Saturday,” said Lenorris, 38, wearing the store’s blue vest. “It depends on if I (have) an appointment for something. I’m usually working with the clothes. I come here, sort through clothes and hang them. I also sweep the floor. Sometimes, if nobody is in the kitchen with Miss Pat (Dennise “Pat” Buchanan), I go in and volunteer. I help serve plates.”
That morning, she toggled between the two. In the thrift shop, she took a break from hanging clothes to admire the red robe a customer tried on. In Cosgrove’s Soup Kitchen, she set out doughnuts on paper plates.
She’s happy to do both.
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“They helped me out. They are just like family that I ain’t got. They always have been here for me. They never turn me down about anything that I ask for. They are always nice. I love them, m’am.”
Lenorris and the two youngest of her four children — son KeShawn Scales, 18, and daughter Delilah Dozier, 9 — moved from Indianola, Miss., in the Mississippi delta, to East St. Louis in 2011. After a minor traffic violation a few years ago, she appeared in St. Clair County court and opted to pay her fine with community service hours. She chose the privately-funded Society of St. Vincent de Paul that helps people with assistance of all sorts. Pat Hogrebe is its director.
“We are a site St. Clair County uses a lot for community service,” said Pat, between responding to texts on her cell phone. “Lenorris did such a good job, she has stayed. A lot would like to stay. We are pretty selective in whom we let volunteer. She’s a hard worker. She does whatever you ask her to do with a great attitude. Her nickname here is Bumblebee. She had a backpack that looked like a bumblebee.”
Lenorris also used the site when getting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
“You have to work now in order to get cash benefits,” Pat said.
What would Lenorris be doing if she wasn’t there?
“I’d probably be sitting at home. My children are in school.”
Lenorris, who has hearing and speech disabilities, takes advantage of programs offered there.
The most important? Budgeting help.
“I didn’t have enough money for all of my bills,” she said. “They taught me how to manage my money, how to save some of my money.”
St. Vincent de Paul’s Money Matters helps 10 to 12 people a month, and 100 a year, Patsaid.
“If they are not willing to make changes, we cannot force them,” Pat said. “We say, ‘You can come back,’ and sometimes they do. We have a 50 percent success rate; 25 percent that are resistant; 25 percent improve, but aren’t where they need to be.”
We distinguish between wants and necessities. We do this with everybody. ... You can want all you want. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it.
Lenorris learned about making tough choices, especially when it comes to her children’s wants. Did she have enough to buy ground beef for the tacos high school senior KeShawn likes? Or a special treat for Delilah, a third-grader at Dunbar Elementary.
“They throw a fit if I don’t have money,” Lenorris said. “I tell them, ‘We have to make it through with this money.’ I love them to death, too. When they ask for something, I feel bad when I can’t get it for them. I don’t want them to go out there and do something negative.
“My son loves basketball. He’s trying to get a job to help out with the bills. ... KeShawn calls himself LeBron (the All-Star forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers). He says, ‘Mom, why didn’t you name me LeBron?’”
It took Lenorris 18 months to get on the right track.
“Once a month, (Lenorris) meets with a volunteer,” said Pat, a former nurse who has worked 10 years for the charitable organization. She sat across from Lenorris at a thrift shop desk. “You can’t spend more money than you make. We distinguish between wants and necessities. We do this with everybody. You don’t need this. You can’t afford it. You can want all you want. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it.
“Talk about the TV you were renting.”
“It was a bad deal,” said Lenorris, who paid $350 monthly to rent a 60-inch TV and a couple pieces of furniture. When thieves broke into her apartment, they took two TVs — including the rental, her children’s video equipment and $400.
“So we helped her through that,” said Pat.
“They brought me up a whole lot when I was down,” said Lenorris, who has since moved to a house where she feels safer.
“We replaced rentals with good quality used, and got rid of that bill,” Pat said. “We looked at the cable bill and got rid of that. We looked at the phone bill and got that down.”
Lenorris has learned about having to do without, to have what really matters.
People need a cellphone, but not a $200 plan with unlimited texting, she said. If folks qualify for a government-issued phones, they get 250 minutes a month. (That averages a little more than eight minutes a day).
“There’s also a limited budget (prepaid) tracphone that allows you to keep in contact for emergencies. The one I bought last week for a homeless individual was a basic flip phone. I spent $20 and got (the phone) and 120 minutes. You can make that last a long time. That way, you can get in touch. Otherwise, there is no way to communicate.
“We do a lot of educating. ... It’s a process. Sometimes, we give direct assistance to get them out of the hole.
“Lenorris has learned about having to do without, to have what really matters.”
After her old car stopped running, she took the bus five miles each way as she saved to buy another one.
“Volunteers sometimes gave me a ride home,” Lenorris said.
“Savings is something we work on. It’s a process to change the mind-set,” Pat said. “She saved for a year and a half. Every month, she put aside X amount in an envelope. After a year plus, she had enough with a small loan. She took a $1,000 loan and paid cash for a car (a 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix).
“We went to a reputable car dealership, Menard (Auto Sales) in Ruma. She had to do with what she could afford. In the beginning, she wanted a Lexus SUV. She bought what was in her price range, a car that was a good value.”
“I liked it because it was red,” Lenorris said. “I didn’t want a van.”
They never turn me down about anything that I ask for. They are always nice.
Then, there’s the matter of insurance.
“People have a tendency to overlook it and let it lapse,” Pat said. “All they have to do is get pulled over and that sets into motion events that are hard to overcome — tickets, fines, court. It’s a serious problem with an easy fix.
“We call a broker and let them figure out a plan. Most of the time, people don’t have to have full coverage. They just need something if they have a collision. Lenorris pays insurance once a month.”
“Yes, m’am,” Lenorris said, “$76 a month.”
“If you get pulled over,” Pat said, “you pull out that valid drivers license and insurance and you are good to go.”
With help, Lenorris is getting to where she wants to be.
“I just love coming in here,” she said. “They give you plenty of attention.”
If not for the folks at St. Vincent de Paul?
“I probably would have ended up going back to Mississippi. For now, I don’t have to think about going back. I have a lot of people who love and like me.”
At a glance
Its mission is to reach out to people in need. “We will get a call,” said Director Pat Hogrebe. “There is a lady sleeping in a shopping cart. She is homeless. She has no ID, no place to live, no income. One thing goes to another thing. That’s how these services have evolved.” Here are a few of them.
- A shower if you need one. “It was expensive to put a shower in at the thrift store, but it gives people dignity,” Pat said. “Without that, they can’t go and find a job and move forward. You can walk in, fill out a sheet, pick out a clean outfit, do laundry, have a good meal. It’s amazing how good a shower can make you feel. It’s not just for the homeless. Sometimes, people have had their power shut off. It just happens.”
- Job search. “We do a job link a couple times a week,” Pat said. “We have volunteers who search the Internet for openings. We look for entry-level positions on up. Where are they hiring? We help with interview skills. We help them develop a resume. It’s all free.” And available at the Soup Kitchen, 3718 State St., East St. Louis; the office, 13 Vieux Carre, East St. Louis; and on the website, www.svdpsouthil.org.
- Career Gear (for women) and Gear Up (for men). Offered Mondays through Thursdays (at 13 Vieux Carre) and by referrals to help people find interview-appropriate clothing. “It’s like a nice little store,” Pat said. “We see 20 people a week. Sometimes, we find someone down on their luck at the soup kitchen. That’s where the ball gets rolling.”
- Help Center. Located at the soup kitchen and open every Monday to help folks get their birth certificates and state IDs, critical to finding employment, housing etc. Takes care of 40 to 60 people a week.
- Microlending. Helps people in a tight crunch avoid payday loans. Up to $300 at 4 percent interest.
- Bus tickets. “Without transportation, people are stuck,” Pat said. “If they are on disability, we work to get them a free bus pass.”
- Health care. Van through Southern Illinois Health Care comes to the soup kitchen and thrift store every other Thursday.
How to help St. Vincent de Paul
- Donate quality goods. Clean clothes in good condition, furniture, appliances. “We are picky about what we take,” Pat said. “If it’s good enough for your family, it’s good enough for us.” They will pick up large items.
- Volunteer. “We always need volunteers of all kinds,” Pat said. “We match you with something you like.” Contact the St. Vincent de Paul Office at 618-394-3568
- Make a cash donation: Send a check to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, P.O. Box 3415, East St. Louis, IL 62203