This week St. Vincent de Paul is celebrating its 45th year serving people in Billings while eyeing the calendar for the day in July it can move its operation to the Crane Building, which it is renovating at 3005 First Ave. South.
The agency, still located at 2610 Montana Ave. for the time being, had a birthday party at its new digs Monday even as EEC Construction crews continue work to transform the nearly century-old building into a place where St. Vincent de Paul can continue its mission to “promote and perform works of charity through personal service.”
“This location will really make a difference,” said Jim Good, a retired ophthalmologist and current St. Vincent de Paul board member. Good attended a committee meeting Wednesday with staff and contractors smoothing and speeding the move, which will include the thrift store, RiverStone Health providers, free use of a washer and dryer, a chapel and offices for staff, among other services. “It’s almost a new building," Good said.
Indeed, the 23,000 square foot Crane Building, constructed in 1919 by Crane and Co. Plumbing, has handsome old bones, but now smells new again. Its open ceilings mean exposed sprinklers and ducts above both stories, giving the place a chic industrial vibe.
“And the really nice thing here,” Good added, “is all the additional parking.”
Seventy parking spots should be more than adequate for people availing themselves of St. Vincent de Paul services, said Vicki Massie, the agency’s information technology manager and volunteer coordinator who also wears other hats for the charity, which now employs about 20 people.
Former executive director Ed Zabrocki resigned in January. Board Member Mick Wolff has stepped in to lead the agency while getting “a lot of help” from the rest of the board, Good said.
“Most of the board has been willing to become more active,” Good said. “It’s nice to think that if we keep after it, poverty will go away in 45 years, but it’s not going away.”
Last fall St. Vincent de Paul secured a $350,000 tax increment financing grant that’s been spent on building improvements. “We couldn’t have done it without that grant,” Massie said.
Once the move is complete, programs and services offered at the Montana Avenue location, part of which has been sold, will also be offered at the Crane Building.
One that’s popular puts refurbished computers into the hands of students. The agency will continue to collect scrap metal, having recycled more than 31 tons last year. It’ll also offer adult education classes.
Perry Roberts, executive director of the nearby Montana Rescue Mission, said he welcomes St. Vincent de Paul to the neighborhood. He’s been talking with the St. Vincent de Paul board in recent days to further define and refine what each agency does best so as not to duplicate services.
“Their moving here is exciting for us too, and for the South Side and the community as a whole,” he said. “We’re excited to have them in the neighborhood — at least a block closer.”
Serving as tour guide Wednesday, Massie was happy to point out what services will be offered where. Most of the second floor will be given over to the thrift store, while the downstairs will house the washer and dryer, which is free to the public, as well as public restrooms and a drinking fountain. St. Vincent de Paul is one of the few places in and around downtown that opens its restrooms to anyone, even those who aren’t customers.
In one corner downstairs at the Crane Building, a team of bookkeepers will continue to serve as payees for about 150 Social Security recipients who cannot, due to mental illness or other challenge, pay their bills consistently.
St. Vincent de Paul will continue to distribute sack lunches provided by their partners. They’ll also carry on with a number of other services (see accompanying story).
While the work can get frustrating at times, Massie said she holds onto success stories like that belonging to a man named Adrian, who gave the agency permission to share his story.
Following a prison sentence, he came to St. Vincent de Paul a few years back to work in the thrift store and was “a workhorse, pleasant and fun to be around,” she said, until he “fell off the wagon” after about eight months on the job and ended up back in prison.
Massie saw him about a year later, and asked him to return to work, but he hesitated, feeling unworthy. Nonetheless he returned.
Fast forward more than two years later and Adrian has become an apprentice carpenter, using tools St. Vincent de Paul provided him.
“He’s now a loving, caring, hard-working man, a husband and father,” she said. “We have a lot of people with stories like that. We want to be a stepping stone people can use to stay clean and sober.”