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Society of St. Vincent de Paul honors volunteer of 50 years, Robert Pike

Posted By June 6, 2017 | 2:54 pm | Featured Article #2
Robert Pike
Robert Pike

By William T. Clew |  The Catholic Free Press

Robert Pike was honored April 29 with the Jubilarian Award from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for 50 years of volunteer service to the organization.
In presenting the award, Norman Caisse, Diocesan Central Council District president, said that Mr. Pike “not only served in a conference, he took on a leadership role at the council level. He was one of the driving forces that helped to transform the council to what we have today.
“For the last 25 years I have had the privilege of his knowledge and expertise. Our talks, exchanging stories of our service to to others, and his advice from experiences helped guide me to better serve those in need.”
Mr. Pike, who worked at the Animal Rescue League shelter in Worcester for 43 years, and was executive director for 30 years, said he began volunteering, mostly at night, in 1956 with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. George Parish. Twenty-eight parishes in the diocese have St. Vincent de Paul conferences.
The Society provides food, clothing and funds to help pay utility bills for some families. The society gets its operating funds from monetary donations from individuals and foundations, and from money made from the sale of donated clothing. Donors bring items to the thrift store at 507 Park Ave. or drop them in St. Vincent de Paul bins set up in various places. A recycling company pays the society for cloth items unfit to sell in the thrift store.
One of Mr. Pike’s duties for the parish conference was to visit the homes of those who went to the Society for assistance to make an assessment of their needs. Some needed help to tide them over for a while during a bad period, he said. Others needed long-term help. He said the money for the utilities – oil, gas, electricity, etc. – went directly to the utility companies rather than to the families. He also has negotiated with landlords to keep families in homes.
One of the programs the Society’s conference at St. George’s did was have “pitch” parties. Pitch is a card game, also known as “high, low, jack,”  “setback,” and a few other names.
The games were open to members of conferences at other parishes, he said, but “we let anyone come in.” Most of the players were elderly and the games gave them something to do.
It was popular, he said, especially with people from northern Worcester County. They showed up for pitch no matter what the weather was like. Snow, rain, they came anyway, he said.
At St. George, Msgr. Francis Manning pastor, asked if Mr. Pike would help the Women’s Guild provide transportation to Boston for a parishioner who needed daily medical treatment there.
He volunteered to drive on Tuesdays. That expanded to Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. He made that drive for two years, he said.
Eventually, Mr. Pike volunteered for the Society’s diocesan council in addition to his work for the conference at St. George. He worked with Msgr. Edmond T. Tinsley and Bishop Flanagan to  provide items for the youngsters at the McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys in Leicester.
Later he worked with Bishop Reilly and Bishop Rueger to raise money to buy the building at 507 Park Ave. near Maywood Street which houses the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and central office. Previously the Society rented space for its clothing store.
Mr. Pike used to bring his wife Frances to Society meetings. When the president of the Society’s diocesan council retired, he was asked to take that job. But he also was busy in a leadership position with the Knights of Columbus. So he volunteered his wife, who had just retired as director of development for Massachusetts Easter Seals. She became president and, later, executive director. She held that position for 21 years and on her retirement  last November, was honored by the Society at a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop McManus.
Asked recently whether volunteering his wife eventually made her his boss, Mr. Pike smiled and said, “She was my boss anyway.”
In their volunteer work with the Society, Mr. and Mrs. Pike used to bring food to a woman with a son and a daughter and became close to the family. The son had a brain tumor, Mr. Pike said. The boy, now a young man, has done well. He was an honor student at St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic Junior /Senior High School and has since graduated from college and has a good job, Mr. Pike said.
When he was younger he asked Mr. Pike to sponsor him at his confirmation. At confirmation time the Pikes were vacationing at Myrtle Beach, S.C., so they made the trip back to Worcester to see him confirmed.
A couple of years later, his sister asked Mrs. Pike to be her confirmation sponsor. And again, the Pikes were in Myrtle Beach and made the return trip to see her confirmed.
The Pikes, both in their 80s, still do some work with the Society. Their son Francis has done volunteer work  for the last eight years at the St. Vincent de Paul store. and their grandson works on the Society’s van on Saturdays.
“That’s because Bob has set a good example,” his wife said.