In the heart of downtown Merrill, stands a building that reflects the soul of the city. "They're kind, I'm not ashamed to come here," Margie Charparneau said.
Inside the St. Vincent de Paul Community Care Center, is a one stop shop for those in need. From La Comunidad Hispana, to the United Way, to a fully-stocked food pantry, it's a place for people who are struggling to get back on their feet.
"I have bipolar disorder, so I'm unable to work," Charparneau said. "And right now, my husband has terminal cancer."
Charparneau grocery shops at the pantry every month for the past four years. "We'd never make it without this food pantry," she said.
So far this year, the pantry has served more than 4,200 people. That's nearly $85,000 worth of milk, meat and dried goods. And it wouldn't be possible without Denis McCarthy.
"I think for a lot of people, there's not a lot of options," McCarthy said. "But St. Vincent de Paul is kind of a last ditch effort when nobody else can jump in, we often can and do."
McCarthy is the pantry's manager and brought this charity for the poor to the area in 2003.
"As the need has increased, so has the generosity," he said.
The Care Center relies on money generated from the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store across town. The pantry is supervised by various local churches. They're both fueled by McCarthy's life-long dedication to serving those most at risk.
"It's almost a natural progression from law enforcement." McCarthy, 70, is a Marine and was also on the force for more than 30 years, starting out in Chicago as a police officer when he was just 21.
"It was a crazy time," he said. McCarthy then moved to Marathon Co. to take a job as a Sheriff's deputy.
"You deal with a lot of people that are not in the best of situations," McCarthy said. "So you see that and realize the frailty of human life."
Perhaps that's why he fits in so well at St. Vincent de Paul. But McCarthy also attributes it to one moment that forever changed him: June 10, 1987. His son Joseph was home from Notre Dame for the summer. The Marine-in-training was killed in a car crash in Wausau.
"He was just shy of his 19th birthday," McCarthy said.
But as the saying goes, from tragedy comes triumph. A father's loss has helped him strengthen the Merrill community.
"When you experience that amount of pain of the death of a child, we understand people more, not necessarily in that situation, but any situation," McCarthy said. "Everybody gets knocked around a little in life and we're all going to take our hits. And we're judged by how we deal with it all."
It's a lesson to remember when we forget, none of us are promised that what we have today, will be here tomorrow.
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