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ST. MARY FAMILY SERVICES Parish ministry stays flexible to serve the needs of their community

St. Mary services

Ron and Judy Bartnicki, team members for St. Mary Family Services, check in at the agency's office/food pantry on Feb. 22 after the parish group's monthly meeting. (Marlene A. Zloza photo)

 

by MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      GRIFFITH – “Generosity” isn’t just a word to St. Mary parishioners, it’s a way of life. Which is why St. Mary Family Services has been a blessing to needy families and individuals in much of Lake County for more than 50 years.

      “Our mission is to help,” said SMFS president Barb Seitz of the all-volunteer organization under the leadership of St. Mary parish that supplies food for the needy in Griffith and Calumet Township, as well as making pledges for utility, rent, mortgage and medical expenses for those screened through the Salvation Army from Griffith, Calumet Township, Highland, Whiting, East Chicago, Hammond and Munster.

      “We work closely with the Salvation Army,” explained SMFS treasurer Steve Bencze. “They screen people and obtain documents to establish need, and we pledge our help, along with other churches they can contact to provide $25 to $75.”

      Seitz said “We ask those seeking help to start with their own church, then contact other local churches. We help people monthly with food and once a year with utilities, unless they are a parishioner, then they have priority.”

      If a client has an expensive emergency need - a new furnace or stove - a number of local churches can be counted on for up to $100 each. With no space to store furniture and appliances, SMFS keeps handy a clipboard listing items available from donors they can readily match up with those in need. They do keep crutches and wheelchairs on hand to loan out.

      With 14 members, SMFS assigns three people to a team, each “on call” one week a month, answering phone calls, interviewing new clients and providing assistance.

      SMFS operates a small food pantry to meet immediate needs, restocking shelves as needed. “I had a call from the rectory about an older gentleman in Gary who had just gotten released from the hospital,” recalled SMFS vice president Ron Bartnicki.

      “I came to the office and interviewed him, and it was a real emergency. He was destitute after having the flu.

      “He rode here on his bicycle on a very cold day, with a big scarf wrapped around his head, and still had his hospital wristband on. We’d had a speaker and he donated his $25 honorarium back to us, so we gave the gentleman that money and food that he packed in an old Army bag. He was extremely grateful, and left on his bike,” Bartnicki added.

      An Easter food distribution will benefit pre-screened clients and others within the agency’s boundaries who haven’t been helped before. “We’ll set up on a Sunday, with help from students and parishioners, and hold the distribution on Monday morning,” said Seitz, offering groceries depending on family size, as well as donated toys, books, stuffed animals and candy for children. “Singles and couples get gift certificates so they can choose what they need.”

      The Christmas distribution includes gifts personalized for children 15 and younger. “At our Thanksgiving giveaway, we ask parents for ages, clothing sizes and toy preferences, and we make up numbered tags with ages and preferences, but no names, that parishioners take from our Angel Tree,” said Cathy Kallok. “It’s amazing all the gifts that fill the tables.” Volunteers even provide extra gifts to balance out the amount for each child.

      “Some big ‘angels’ ask us to save them an entire family,” Judy Bartnicki added.

      “Most of our funding comes from parishioners in a monthly purple envelope, and they help continuously,” Seitz said. “Our school children and religious education families are very faithful, donating canned goods and volunteering.” Corporate food donations have come from Strack and Van Til Stores, Franciscan Health Hammond, Franciscan Health and Fitness Centers and Toyota.

      “Parishioners have entrusted us to be good stewards of their generosity,” said Ron Bartnicki, while Seitz noted “extensive checks and balances” that document expenses.

      Why do SMFS volunteers work so hard? “There are a million stories,” said Seitz, including one recalled by Rosemary Osmulski as she held back tears: “A lady came at Christmas to get gifts for her kids, and she stood and cried because she had thought her children weren’t going to receive anything that year.”

      That’s why they do it.

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