After a brief vacation in Europe, the family returned to the Peruvian jungle in 2011, and bought a dairy farm there which eventually became very productive and successful.
“It was such a beautiful experience to be with these humble people in their time of need,” Ralph said of his time in South America.
A new start
Family matters— including Theresa’s mother being diagnosed with cancer— led the family to come back to the U.S., to Boise, in 2015.
Teresa began working as an accountant, and Ralph took a “vacation” of several months, laying low and working in their garden.
Eventually, he started volunteering with the Red Cross, helping with disaster assistance, rising to the position of logistics manager for the region.
Then, in 2016, Ralph met a woman who was volunteering with the Red Cross as a nurse, who was also the incoming president for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) for the area.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international lay Catholic organization whose members operate food pantries, provide housing assistance, and make house visits to the needy.
St. Vincent de Paul has around 4,400 locations across the U.S., falling into two main categories— conferences, which are associated with parishes; and councils, which are organized roughly at the diocese-wide level and tend to be bigger operations with more partnerships.
Ralph started doing some special projects for SVDP, starting a ministry for men and women coming out of prison— a ministry he had never done before, but which he very much enjoyed.
In 2017, SVDP applied for a major grant to get an executive director for the southwest Idaho council. Ralph was selected to serve as the region's first executive director.
‘We can do something about this’
In southwest Idaho, Ralph says, a lot of people are new to the area and don't have community ties or friends to support them, which provides a good opportunity for SVDP volunteers to act as good neighbors for those in need.
Ralph says even though he has been away from South America for five years, his experience working with the poorest of the poor there has given him valuable perspective.
When he approaches the poor in the United States, his knowledge and experience from working in Peru “allows me to continue to roll up my sleeves and say ok, we can do something about this.”
The poverty he encountered in South America is “so much graver” than the poverty he generally encounters in the US, he said. In Peru, there are fewer resources available in the communities, and it is much more difficult to make a real difference.
In contrast, there are many good people and nonprofits in Idaho that are willing to answer SVDP's pleas for resources. That simply didn't exist in Peru, he said.
“I have never felt despair here, working with the poor. There's a lot of poor, and in their circumstances it is grave. But I think that perspective has been a very strong thing and a very good thing in my life.”
At SVDP, Ralph says, the biggest things they do is rental and housing assistance, working to prevent homelessness. They also provide clothing and household goods, and do home visits to the elderly— though during the pandemic they have adapted to doing patio visits or regular phone calls.
SVDP also runs five food pantries throughout the state that serve some 1,500 families a month. When COVID-19 hit, Ralph says their pantry converted to drive-thru service.
Ralph says SVDP Southwest Idaho has provided at least half a million dollars in direct aid in the last year, handling some 40-60 calls per day.
Despite the continued challenges of the coronavirus and changing demographics, “we're on a great path these days,” he said.