Tom Buzzo has been volunteering in the kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul since 2010. Mention his name to those on the grounds of the shelter however, and you will likely get a blank stare.
“He’s known as the guy with the baseball cap and a smile,”
says Marilyn Brownlee, St. Vincent’s director of communications and outreach. “He’s always got a smile.”
Disciplined, unassuming, soft-spoken, and quick to credit others, Buzzo is also known for something else: a work ethic with roots that can be attributed as much to his Northern Michigan upbringing as his 32 years in the United States Air Force.
Every Monday and Tuesday the 68-year-old dedicates his time to Meals on Wheels in St. Petersburg and Thursdays and Fridays he’s serving at St. Vincent de Paul.
For three hours each day, he prepares the kitchen, the food and helps serve an average of 250 meals. He also works in the shelter’s pantry where 200 food baskets are distributed to the working homeless each week.
Tucked under the interstate in downtown St. Pete, St. Vincent de Paul has served its target population – the hungry, homeless and impoverished people for over 55 years, assisting those in dire circumstances through well-managed, highly effective, quality programs that address their most basic human needs.
Says Brownlee, “Tom’s happy to be here and that warmth goes right on to the clients. They know when people care and he cares.”
Tom’s story starts on Michigan’s northern peninsula in the tiny town of Lake Linden where he, his brother and three sisters were born and raised. Lake Linden’s population? 1,200 very cold people
“Not everybody realizes it, but we get more snow there than Buffalo. We’re actually north of Toronto,” says Buzzo not without pride.
Life is not easy there. There are few desk jobs. Buzzo’s father worked in the copper mines for $75 a week.
“I went to Catholic school in the ‘50’s and my mother was very strict about us going to school and our dad was very strict about us getting work,” recalls Buzzo. “When I was in seventh grade he found me a job working in the summer on a farm. I was working 40 hours a week and made 35 cents an hour. I think I was 12 years old.”
His siblings remain in Lake Linden and he would have likely done the same, if not for one thing.
“I had a skin condition growing up. My skin would crack and bleed in the cold weather, then it would clear up in the spring,” says Buzzo.
He was drafted by the Army at the age of 18, but was classified as 4F due to his ailment.
His doctor’s diagnosis was easy: warm weather year around.
“Two weeks later,” Buzzo recounted,” I found a guy who was planning to move to Florida. I said to him ‘If you think we can get along with each other, I’m going with you.’”
And so, in 1969 at the age of 20, Buzzo headed south to Tampa Bay.
It worked. The rash left, Tom stayed and a life of selfless service began.
“There’s a good possibility I would have continued living up north,” says Buzzo. “I had a good job with Kohler (manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom fixtures), but I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
While working a series of odd jobs, he met his wife, the former Deborah Sternberg, and a family of five ensued. Rash-free and eight years after he landed in the Sunshine state, Tom decided to enlist in the Air Force.
A tech sergeant, Buzzo did tours at bases in Homestead, Florida, Charleston, South Carolina and handled temporary duty in Germany before applying for and receiving an assignment closer to home for CENTCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
“It was only supposed to be for two years, but then, 911 hit and I ended up staying for six more until I retired,” said Buzzo.
Through it all, for more than three decades of military life, he never missed a day, was never late, never written up for anything.
The same can be said for his time with St. Vincent de Paul, which began on a limited basis in 1992.
“We rely on volunteers to run our food center,” says Brownlee. “We have a very limited staff, very limited budget for buying food. So, when you find someone who is responsible and who shows up when he is supposed and when he can, we are grateful. And we are very, very grateful for Tom.”
Buzzo credits the clergy at St. Petersburg’s Sacred Heart Church for his three-decade involvement with St. Vincent de Paul.
‘This is a great place. It’s been fun and I hope to be a lot longer,” says Buzzo. “I feel blessed to be here on this side of the counter. We never know when a tragedy happens in our life and how quickly things can turn around.”
St. Vincent de Paul’s research reveals that many families are just one paycheck from being homeless. “We hear it over and over again,” says Brownlee. “Most people are down on their luck. We will always have the chronic homeless that we take are of, but a lot of people just need a leg up.”
Or a hand that once was home to a fortuitous rash.
– Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
This is about feeding one hungry child.
Knowing that your child is hungry and not being able to feed him is anguishing for a parent. Imagine also living in a car, with a hungry child; that was Tina’s reality. SVdP CARES got a call that there was a young woman living in a car at a shopping center. Too proud to ask for help, she was desperate. Most families come to us this way.
SVdP CARES lifts families out of poverty every day. Tina’s story is like most, she fell ill, got evicted and had no one to turn to. When she ran out of friends’ couches to sleep on, she did the only thing she could, that was to live in her car, maintain her job, and try to care for her son. She was frightened and alone.
Every day at SVdP CARES, we help families find stability. For some it is the first stable housing they have had in years. Once she was in transitional housing she was able to find better employment, child care and ultimately end their homelessness for good.
Your gifts make this possible. A gift today of $25, $50, $100 or $500 can help families like Tina’s avoid falling into the trap of homelessness. You are the key to ending homelessness. This Thanksgiving we are literally helping thousands of people right here in your own backyard end their homelessness. That’s a pretty powerful reason to give!
When you give to SVdP CARES, you do more than provide warm meals and safe shelter -
you give families like Tina’s the tools to live lives that are productive
and a positive influence on others.
If you have given to SVdP CARES before you can rest assured that your gift is working miracles everyday. Give today to help a family have a Thanksgiving meal in their own home.
Michael J. Raposa
Donor Spotlight: Daniel Gionet, Passionately Changing Lives!
For over 10 years, Dan has given of his time, talent and treasure to SVdP CARES! His volunteer work at the Community Thrift Store in St. Petersburg is invaluable as he tests and repairs donated electronics before they are put out on the sales floor. Sometimes he is literally bringing those electronics back to life. He makes it possible for the SVdP CARES Community Thrift Store to provide top notch electronics to its patrons. When sold, profits help fund the work to end homeless and obliterate poverty, one family, or individual at a time.
After serving in the Air Force, Dan went to University of Florida on the GI bill, and became an electrical engineer. After a rewarding career with several private companies, he retired in 2001. As a Vincentian, Dan volunteered with the St. John’s SVdP Parish Conference doing home visits to assist people who were struggling to make ends meet. Through his volunteering at the Parish Conference (for over 20 years!), his love for the mission of SVdP began.
That love and passion lead him to begin volunteering at the SVdP CARES Community Thrift Store in 2008. To this day, he spends hours in the back room of the Store fixing and testing all electronics that will be sold. He is truly masterful at his craft. The people SVdP CARES serve have definitely benefitted from his 45 years plus experience in electrical engineering.
Dan’s love for his family, his faith, and St. Vincent de Paul is palpable. He believes in the mission of SVdP CARES, and is making a true difference in the world. Thank you Dan for your investment in SVdP CARES, your dedication, and your service to our country!
SVdP CARES’ volunteers are a critical part of the team working with staff to help change lives. Consider being a part of the work to help end homelessness, and alleviate the challenges of poverty. Become a volunteer. Go to https://www.svdpsp.org/volunteer-application-1/
Donor Spotlight: Anne Marie and Chet Jordan
Anne Marie began her relationship with SVDP CARES by serving meals in our Food Center with her daughter Alexis during summer break over five years ago. She enjoyed the experience so much; she also began doing meal prep, food sorting and helping kitchen staff. "I was amazed at how the Executive Chef could create healthy, nutritious meals for so many people with such limited and unpredictable resources.” she remarked. “It was like witnessing God’s work with the 'Loaves and fishes’.”
The phrase refers to the Bible story in which Jesus blesses a small amount of fish and loaves of bread, resulting in the disciples having enough food to distribute to thousands of people. This is what we do every day.
“I was immediately impressed by how SVdP CARES approaches the problem of homelessness with such compassion and with deep knowledge of its complexities. They have built an efficient and dedicated organization having a solid impact on the lives of people in crisis.” Mr. Jordan notes.
Chet shares; “People could choose any number of organizations to support with their time and resources. We started to learn more about the organization and the extent of their programs. We learned about their success in people’s lives. They have a culture of fiscal transparency, efficiency and responsibility. That resulted in SVDP CARES being an organization we are proud to help represent.”
Anne Marie and Chet wish that more people were aware of both the great need in our area for the services provided by SVdP CARES, and of the great job that this precious organization does in alleviating immediate suffering and providing a path to a better future for people. Both have recently become part of our Donor Engagement Group to help deliver this message and increase the support of the good work done at SVdP CARES.
Chet grew up being ‘volunteered’ by his mother for such things as stuffing envelopes and for the causes she was involved with. He became aware of the Bridging Families program at SVdP CARES and wanted to learn more and support that initiative. He has served on various non-profit, corporate boards and business organizations while living in Maine. Newly retired, he is focusing on helping organizations providing support, education and skill building for families and children. Raised in Portland, Maine with his younger sister by a single mom in the 60’s and 70’s, Chet’s memories of his upbringing inform his desire to help others challenged with poverty.
Anne Marie has been involved in many nonprofits that include Rape Crisis organizations, ESOL tutoring programs, the American Red Cross, church outreach, Avian Rehabilitation, and Avian Education programs.
Birds have been Anne Marie's passion since her childhood in Augusta, Maine, and she currently has her own enterprise called Edufeathers. She provides no-cost wildlife education presentations featuring live, non-releasable birds and animals to nursing homes and ALFs.
Anne Marie also has lots of fun volunteering to provide these programs to the children in the SVDP CARES Bridging Families Program. Pictured here is Anne Marie with her owls (Basil and Scooter) in the Center of Hope Family Shelter here on campus. “Children always come up with the best questions!"
SVdP CARES is grateful to Anne Marie and Chet for making a difference through their gifts of time and talent, and through their generous financial support.
A home of their own
Nicole is the mother to four adorable boys. The journey here to SVdP CARES Center of Hope began when Nicole left a domestic violence situation with the father of her four children. Raising four children is a big job, but Nicole was left with no choice when her relationship with their father turned violent.
Nicole is a survivor, with four children to take care of. When the odds were stacked against this little family they also lost everything due to a house fire. Although they were able to stay with family, that period was short lived. Nicole found herself homeless, with four little mouths to feed.
Nicole works from home doing 2 jobs so she can stay with her youngest child who has Down syndrome. The children have always been her first priority. When Nicole ran out of options for housing, broke and scared, she brought her family to the Center of Hope.
Caring for four children alone while living in a shelter was not what she planned, but her life took some serious turns. Once she was able to have a stable living situation at the Center of Hope, Nicole worked diligently with our staff. As of result of her efforts, we learned that Nicole was a perfect candidate for our Rapid Re-Housing program called Bridging Families.
The Center of Hope Bridging Families Program works to stabilize families experiencing housing crisis by providing them with a safe environment to reside while they work to secure more stable housing in the community. Your gifts make this possible.
We are pleased to report that Nicole and her children are thriving in their new home. Her story is just one of many, where SVdP CARES Center of Hope has ended homelessness and alleviated poverty.
With the support of committed donors like you, we are able to impact thousands every year, and end their homelessness.
We are pleased to announce in conjunction with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, that we are starting a new program in Sarasota County to address the homeless population. Michael Raposa, CEO of St. Vincent de Paul CARES, says the new program intends to remove as many barriers as possible to individuals, especially those who may be ineligible for other social services. “You don’t need to be clean or sober. You don’t need a job,” he says. “This is a holistic approach to ending homelessness for this client.”
The following links are the articles about this exciting new partnership in Sarasota:
Thank you to the donors in the Sarasota region for making this a reality, and to you, for being a part of the vision to help end homelessness, making it rare, brief and non-recurring.
You may have noticed when you read the articles that our CEO Michael J. Raposa used the name St. Vincent de Paul CARES (SVdP CARES). As SVdP South Pinellas expands and now covers five counties, we are in the process of upgrading our brand to St. Vincent de Paul CARES.
Although we are committed to our mission here in South Pinellas and the City of St. Petersburg, we are excited to include the counties: Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk and Sarasota in our efforts to end homelessness. It is our belief that the name SVdP CARES reflects our regional outreach beyond South Pinellas.