Instead of a fancy 150th anniversary gala, the St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council spent Oct. 5 doing what Vincentians do best: serving people in need.

Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland allowed council volunteers to run what they called Client Day, a festival of giving and fellowship. The council provided coats, food boxes and even 45 chances for a free stay at Camp Howard. More than clients 600 came, the line wrapping around the parish hall. Many were families with children.

Also on hand were representatives to sign people up for the Oregon Health Plan.

The council gave out vouchers for rent and utility as door prizes.

“It’s amazing they did all this,” said Ahbreonna Austin, who picked up coats and several boxes of food and toiletries for her sons, ages 5 and 7.

MaryLee Stahl, president of the Ascension Parish conference, is second generation St. Vincent de Paul. Her parents were active. Her mother Mona Stahl was conference president at St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton.

MaryLee Stahl has volunteered for so long because the relationships with people who are poor has helped her soul — one of the key tenets of St. Vincent de Paul.

The day was as much about those relationships as free goods. Conversations buzzed between clients and the approximately 60 volunteers.

“People seemed really happy,” said Craig Loughridge, emergency services program manager for the Portland Council.

Gayle Pizzuto, president of the Portland Council, brought three grandchildren in hope that they’ll become lifelong Vincentians.

“St. Vincent de Paul does such important service in such a quiet way,” Pizzuto said, standing next to a five-foot-tall mound of onions.

One of those grandchildren was Aubrey Welch, a junior at La Salle Prep in Milwaukie. “I thought it was really special,” Aubrey said of helping children find coats that fit. “The joy on their faces was great.”

His sister Ella, an eighth grader at Our Lady of the Lake School in Lake Oswego, had just as much fun helping youngsters find coloring books.

“I can see myself volunteering over the years,” Ella said.

The third grandchild, Ryan Welch, a Christ the King School sixth-grader, admitted that the work was hard, but he did it anyway.

Pizzuto recalls the moment she became a lifelong Vincentian. As a young mother, she helped deliver food to a house in North Portland and saw seven children receive the food with wild gratitude. Then the single mother, a roller derby queen, showed her thanks with all she had — roller derby tickets. At the match that night, the young mother got knocked out, but bounced back. For Pizzuto, it was a sign of how resilient people can be.

A Mass for the 150th anniversary is set for Saturday, Nov. 16, at St. Anthony Church in Tigard.