For The Dialog
CENTREVILLE, Md. – The hall of Our Mother of Sorrows Church looked like a field office of Santa’s Workshop last week as dozens of “elves” scurried about, sorting gifts and food baskets before checking their lists to ensure each order was correct for about 200 families in the Centreville area.
While the goal of the gift and food basket program is to bring joy to those less fortunate at Christmas, these elves, members of Mother of Sorrows’ Outreach Ministry, go beyond the holiday season in their effort to show their Christian love for others.
Now that Christmas is over, members of the Outreach Ministry return to their regular work. When students return to Centreville Elementary School near Mother of Sorrows on Jan. 5, ministry members will resume preparing backpack food packages for 41 students every Friday.
The food pantry returns to normal operation, serving about 40 families each of two Thursday afternoons it is open each month.
Throughout the year the ministry works with other parishes, churches, and various organizations, to meet emergency needs.
“We work very closely with the (Queen Anne’s County) Department of Social Services,” said Dorothy Hamm, one of the ministry’s leaders. Social Services provides referrals for those who receive food from the pantry, except in emergency situations. The office also provides a list of families that need help at the holidays, and often refers clients who need help beyond the department’s limitations to groups such as the Outreach Ministry.
Mother of Sorrows has about 550 registered families. So, the ministry is limited in how much it can help people who suddenly find themselves homeless or need to pay utility bills or meet unexpected medical or dental bills. Often it has to work with other churches (such as St. Christopher on Kent Island) and different organizations to assist a family.
The backpack food program, started three years ago, illustrates that cooperation among churches. Centreville United Methodist Church had operated a program at another elementary school (and since added a second school), and invited the Outreach at Mother of Sorrows to develop a similar ministry, said Lois Labs, who coordinates the backpack program.
“The program got started by a counselor talking to a child who said he hadn’t had anything to eat over the (previous) weekend,” Labs said. It now helps 41 students each week. Labs and other volunteers package the food, which they take to the elementary school on Friday. School officials place packages in the backpacks of students.
The amount of support Mother of Sorrows Parish provides Queen Anne’s County’s less fortunate surprised many leaders of the ministry, such as Hamm who moved here 10 years ago from St. Raphael’s Parish in Montgomery County, Md., a much bigger parish.
“I was just astounded at the generosity of this parish,” she said.
About five years ago then-pastor Father Mark Kelleher called a meeting to reorganize the parish outreach. While the parish had long operated an outreach program, Outreach Ministry President Ross Camardella said, Father Kelleher thought it could be expanded and operated more efficiently.
The pantry’s physical size limits operations, Camardella said, so one of the goals for 2015 is to transform the hall’s garage into a pantry where clients can select the food they want rather than be given items that may contain foods they don’t like. The project is estimated at $15,000, for which a $5,000 grant has already been obtained.
In conjunction, a storage shed will be built by the carpentry class of Queen Anne’s High School as an educational project; the parish will provide all supplies.
The ministry continues to change, under the leadership of the pastor, Father Clemens D. Manista. This Thanksgiving, for example, it participated in Queen Anne’s County’s Feed a Family project rather than operate an independent basket program.
Parishioners provided 75 food orders for Feed a Family in addition to 75 other baskets for senior citizens in Centreville.
The change aimed to avoid duplication of services and allow the Outreach Ministry to conserve its resources, Hamm said.
Efforts not to duplicate services carried over into the Christmas Giving Tree program, she said. Several groups in Queen Anne’s County provide toys for children at Christmas, so the parish decided it would focus on new clothing for children on their list.
Once again this Christmas parishioners showed their generosity, volunteer Chris Collins said as she double-checked gift packages with parents’ wish lists.
“Our people are so generous,” Collins said. “Sometimes they gave three or four things instead of just one.”
Such a spirit guides the Outreach Ministry year-round, not just at Christmas, at Our Mother of Sorrows.