“It’s been my pleasure to work with St. Vincent de Paul all these years,” says long-time volunteer Rita Tomson.
No, Rita, the pleasure has been all ours.
After 33 years of service, Rita is retiring from her volunteer service at SVdP Indy. Yet, the imprint of this dear 98-year-old lady will live on in our organization and in the many who she helped and comforted.
Beginning a Long Volunteer Journey
Rita first got involved with SVdP Indy thanks to Saturday morning coffees with a neighbor.
“My husband and I always had our neighbor over for coffee on Saturday mornings. And at a certain point, he always had to leave to volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul’s warehouse,” she recalls.
After several Saturday mornings of hearing him talk about his volunteer work, Rita decided she wanted to know more.
“One Saturday, I asked him more about it,” she says, “and then I asked, ‘Can I go with you?’”
And that was all it took.
“The more I went to volunteer, the more I wanted to go back each week,” Rita says.
Saturdays to everyday
She started off volunteering at the Distribution Center, helping people pick out clothes. She’d regularly volunteer for five hours on a Saturday and just enjoyed being around everyone.
“Everyone was so nice, pleasant and caring,” she shares, “so how could I feel any other way but happy to be there?”
After she was widowed—she and Jack were married for 37 years—Rita was approached about another volunteer job at SVdP Indy to help fill her time.
“Bob Sparks—many might remember him—approached me at mass and told me he had something he could use my help with,” Rita shares. “I started going on house calls with him and learning how we connected one-on-one with those seeking our help.”
Before long, Rita was doing home visits on her own.
“We always went in pairs, and I always felt safe,” she says. “I did this for a good number of years. I was seeing firsthand the way St. Vincent de Paul was helping people.”
An enduring heart for service
As Rita got older, the home visits became more difficult. But she was not done serving—not even close.
She started volunteering with the Help Line telephone ministry. Every week, right from her kitchen table, she answered calls from people in need of help—furniture, clothes, utilities and more.
“As I talked to people on the phone, I always thought, ‘Can I help them? Is there anything more we can do?’ So many are in great need,” Rita says. “I always told people ‘God bless you’ or ‘God loves you’ before I ended the call. I love people and helping them—it satisfies something within my heart.”
And help people she has.
Reflecting on a lifetime of service to others
From her earliest days as a young woman in Kansas, she’s been focused on serving others. Rita’s first job was as a teacher in a one-room country schoolhouse with a wooden stove. She taught a small group of kids, grades 1-8.
After that, she worked in the administrative offices of a U.S. Air Force base in Kansas. It was during this time—after World War II ended—that she met her husband. She and Jack first connected at a Knights of Columbus dance and were married in 1947.
As an Army wife, she shepherded the family—a daughter and two sons—as they moved all over, including a stint in Germany. After they settled back at Fort Benjamin Harrison and the kids were grown, she went back to work at the Finance Center on Ft. Harrison and became an active member of St. Joan of Arc.
And over more than three decades, she kept SVdP Indy close to her heart.
“Rita has been a blessing to SVdP Indy in many capacities over 30 years—the Distribution Center, Food Pantry, home visits and the Help Line,” says Pat Rapp, Coordinator of the SVdP Indy Help Line.
Yet, in typical Rita fashion, she believes she is the one who was blessed.
“SVdP had a purpose for me, and it satisfied my heart,” she says. “If you’re thinking about getting involved, do it. There are lots of good men and women involved with St. Vincent de Paul, many who devoted years of service.”
She should know. From all of us at SVdP Indy, many thanks to Rita for her incalculable impact on our organization and the people we serve.