Kirstin Nicholson, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper
50 years is an impressive length of time to be associated with one organisation. That’s how long Barham’s Phil Mertz has been involved with the St Vincent de Paul Society, better known as Vinnies. Last month, Phil was recognised for his years of service.
Phil began his association with Vinnies in the 1960s when he lived and worked at Hay. The society assists people in need, and conference is the term used for the meetings between Vinnies’ representatives and those in need to discuss what assistance is required. The society had put a call out for volunteers to assist with conference, and Phil answered the call.
In the early days, that involved helping people in any way they could. “We used to visit patients in the hospital and ask if there was anything they wanted. But mostly, it was just to talk to people, just to be company for them. That’s one of the main things,” said Phil.
When Phil moved to Barham in 1970, there was no local Vinnies to join, but that did not stop him. “I missed it a bit,” he said. He spoke to the parish priest about getting a local Vinnies established. The uptake was slow, and it took a couple of years for others to come on board. Despite that, Phil went forth with helping people and would regularly have visits from people seeking help at his accountancy office. “People used to come to into the office and I’d spend half an hour getting their details, and I’d give them $50 to go and get a meal,” he said.
Eventually, the Vinnies volunteer base grew. “The more volunteers we got, the more people we could help. It grew more, and we started the Vinnies shop, which has always been popular.”
Phil held the role of conference president until a few years ago. He also held the role of regional president, covering Barham, Deniliquin, Balranald and Hay, which involved meetings of the diocesan council. Phil would disseminate news to his local volunteers and train members.
Phil has been part of an organisation that has helped hundreds of local people and helped them through difficult times. While he has seen the society structure change from local, independent groups to those managed from the top level at France down to the local level, he believes that the aim is the same as it has always been – to help people.
His genuine love of helping people through a tough situation is what kept him going for so long. “I hate to see people in need, so I keep doing it.” While he is no longer involved in the conferencing, he still puts his hand up for odd jobs.
During Volunteers Week in May, Vinnies recognised Phil’s service and presented him with a 50 year service badge. Phil said, “I do it, not to get a badge or recognition, I do it because I like doing it.”
Phil is concerned for the future and believes that more people will be turning to organisations like Vinnies in the near future. “Whether they need food or clothes, it takes a lot of courage for a person to come into the centre and say they need help.”
If anyone would like to help in the conference or the centre, they can contact the Barham Vinnies centre in Noorong Street. “The more people we can have volunteering, the more people we can help.”
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 16 June 2022.