The aim of the St Vincent de Paul Society is the same today as it was at its conception in the 19th Century: to tackle poverty in all its forms through the provision of practical assistance to those in need.
The concept of need is broader than financial hardship, so visiting the sick, the lonely, the addicted, the imprisoned and those suffering from disabilities form a large proportion of the Society's work.
The Society is active in 150 countries and has nearly 600,000 members worldwide. In England and Wales, its more than 10,000 volunteers annually carry out more than 500,000 recorded visits. The essential work of the Society is person-to-person contact, and, as this is a fundamental part of the Society's ethos, it does not make donations to any work in which members are not personally involved. However, it recognises that material or financial assistance may help those it visits overcome crises and develop longer-term solutions to their problems.
When financial problems are involved, the main objective is to foster sound budgeting and debt management. It may be possible to supply some items of furniture or clothing, but the responsibility to ensure we do not leave people dependent on help is recognised. Training is available to members, ensuring that they are equipped to carry out their work in a competent manner.
The Society operates in small groups called "Conferences", which are often based in local parishes or schools. They meet regularly to review their work as well as allocating future work in a spirit of prayer and mutual support. The work of a Conference is usually concentrated on local visiting.
Over the years, the SVP has responded to social changes, providing a range of additional services depending on the prevailing need. Today, these “Community Support Projects/Special Works” include furniture stores, support centres, providing accommodation to vulnerable people, disability projects, soup runs, children's camps and various holiday schemes amongst other things. The most recent initiative is the creation of Community Shops providing resources and employment in areas of deprivation.
Since 1999, the Society also runs a Youth Development programme in parishes, schools and universities. Youth SVP aims to empower young people through their involvement in local community projects and other volunteering activities.
Internationally, groups in the developing world are "Twinned" with groups in more affluent countries, supporting each other with correspondence and mutual prayer. Financial support is also provided in the form of regular contributions, student sponsorship, specific projects and a "disaster fund" to help the local Society cope with disasters in their own country.
The SVP is part of the Vincentians in Partnership, an umbrella organisation set up to oppose structural injustice and foster collaboration among those organisations, groups, trusts, charities and religious congregations in Great Britain which are influenced by the spirit of St Vincent de Paul.