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Vinnies chief spruiking for volunteers


With Vinnies experiencing a surge in demand for its services, recently appointed chief executive Evelyn O’Loughlin has embarked on a mission to bolster the number of volunteers supporting the organisation’s works.

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Taking up her new role at the start of September, Ms O’Loughlin said like many other not-for-profits around Australia, the St Vincent de Paul Society had experienced a downturn in volunteer numbers since the pandemic. With many unable to participate in their volunteering role due to COVID restrictions, the reality was that large numbers had not returned.

Recognising the ageing volunteer workforce, Ms O’Loughlin, who was head of Volunteering SA&NT for 13 years, said one of the first things on her ‘to do list’ was bolstering numbers, especially attracting younger volunteers into the fold.

“One of the things that attracts young people to volunteering is having an understanding that the work they are doing can have a finite beginning, middle and end…younger people need roles that are more flexible, that can fit in with their lifestyles and they want to see an immediate impact,” she said.

“At Vinnies the impact of our work is really immediate and I think that will resonate with young people who have very strong values and beliefs about being a good person, doing good work and being active citizens.

“Vinnies volunteers can see and understand that what you are doing is making a tangible difference to people’s lives immediately – whether it’s in the shop and they’re seeing people purchase things and experience that feel-good factor; in the conferences where that work directly helps people in need and they know they are doing something critical to change someone’s life; or in the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service where people are in difficult circumstances and are needing support and that day-to-day help.”

The effects of the pandemic and current cost of living rises had resulted in increasing demand for Vinnies services, Ms O’Loughlin said.

“The demand is huge and one day we would hope that our services would not be needed, but unfortunately that isn’t the case and the pandemic has really sharpened that focus.

“The need is great and the demographic is changing…now we find people who are working are also needing help.”

Figures released in Vinnies 2021/22 annual report show that the State’s 63 conferences (local networks of volunteers) provided $1.59 million in assistance to more than 40,000 people, conducting 15,613 visits during the year. The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service assisted more than 3000 people and 1000 volunteers helped to run the 34 Vinnies shops. Fred’s Van served nearly 28,000 meals at 10 locations, while crisis accommodation was provided to 503 men and more than 1000 women and children.

Raised by Greek migrant parents who ran a fruit block at Renmark, Ms O’Loughlin said she felt blessed to be able to serve an organisation that aligned with her values and faith.

“My parents were very much community members and faith was important,” she said. “They were part of growing the Greek Orthodox Church and parish in the Riverland and helped raise money to build a church in Renmark, which we attended every week.”

The family moved to Adelaide when she was 15 and after completing a Bachelor of Education, Ms O’Loughlin took up her first teaching appointment in Port Pirie. There she met her husband Paal, who comes from a well-known Catholic family in the region and whose grandfather Lou was responsible for building St Mark’s Cathedral.

Married in 1990, the couple celebrated their strong faiths with a Catholic wedding Mass in St Laurence’s Church, North Adelaide, and a ceremony at the Greek Orthodox Community Church in Prospect.

After living and working in the tourism industry in Europe for 11 years, they returned to Adelaide in 2004 with their four-month-old daughter, Louise, with son Laurence arriving three years later.

Not afraid to transfer her skills in different sectors, Ms O’Loughlin worked for the Greek Orthodox Community of SA for a few years before acting on a “crazy idea” to run her own business, as the State distributor for an organic chocolate brand.

When the venture folded she was heartened to find her “niche” in the not-for-profit sector, as the CEO of Volunteering SA&NT and after a short stint in an executive role with disability support organisation Orana, she accepted the job at Vinnies.

Settling into her new office at Ozanam House, Ms O’Loughlin is getting out and about as much as possible meeting with staff and volunteers, and is looking forward to sharing ideas and learning from her interstate counterparts.

“One of the things that struck me immediately, and has been strengthened every day I’ve been here, is how great the staff and volunteers are,” she said.

“Everybody I’ve met has been very welcoming…and you can see the good work they do, every day, supporting people in need.”

Ms O’Loughlin said that spending time with family and friends is important, but work has always been a high priority.

“It might sound clichéd, but I love my work and I feel it is my vocation,” she said.

“I love working in the not-for-profit sector, knowing I can make a difference, and having the ability to have your values align with the work you do.”

Vinnies needs volunteers to assist in its shop network and conferences. If you are interested in finding out more go to



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