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Mary’s House and its volunteers from Mary, Mother of Peace/St. Michael’s help fill a need in Georgetown, Millsboro

A few of the volunteers at Mary's House pause in between helping feed those in need. They are, from left, Tom Kuches, Irven Bender, Rosemary Edelstein, Jean Bender and Nancy Hadjokas. Dialog photo/Michael Short

OAK ORCHARD – It’s a plain, little home with white siding and black shutters.

Mary’s House is located just past Mary, Mother of Peace Catholic Church, as Route 24 winds its way to Millsboro. The quiet little corner becomes a non-stop hive of activity every Monday morning when local people come to get food or sundries from the food pantry.

Since it opened in October 2010, Mary’s House has helped 17,537 families and 47,743 people. More than 13,074 volunteer hours have been poured into the food pantry operated by Mary, Mother of Peace/St. Michael the Archangel Parish.

It may be short on flash, but it is very long on hope.

The need has increased in the last two years as COVID-19 has shuttered businesses, cost jobs and left people ill or unable to work. The need, however, has always been there, according to volunteers.

“We are very blessed to get a lot of donations,” said Eileen Polini, who works as coordinator. “There has always been a need. We are just happy we’re here to be able to help.”

Donations come from parishioners, the Columbiettes, local churches and food banks like Epworth Methodist, community members and grocery stores like Harris Teeter.

Almost every Monday morning, unless it’s a holiday or ten inches of snowfall, the pantry is open from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Bags filled with peanut butter, jelly, pasta, baked goods, tuna, cereal, pasta sauce, cereal and other staples are carried out almost non-stop by a team of volunteers.

Peggy Avanzato and Tom Kuches carry bags of food. Dialog photo/Michael Short

There’s always a need for donations of canned goods, cereal and other non-perishable items as well as sundries like toilet paper, shampoo and toothpaste. Sometimes, grocery stores will donate frozen meats and the house has five freezers to keep everything stored safely until it’s needed.

Polini may be the “boss”, as the volunteers jokingly call her, but it’s very clear it’s a team effort. Food is handed out on Mondays, but volunteers also work Tuesdays and Fridays as they collect, sort and check for expired items. There have been well over 100 volunteers over the years.

“We have a great, great bunch of volunteers,” said Polini. “They are always trying to do more, asking “What can we do next? What can we do next?” she said.

“The parish just felt there was a need,” she said. “It just snowballed. People here just started bringing us food to help.”

Each week, an estimated 45 to 50 families show up in need of a helping hand.

“They need a hand and we’re glad we’re here to help. We just give out until we don’t have anything left.”

There were times when the pantry began when they could not meet the need and had to close. But lately, that has not seemed to be a problem, even when it seems there will not be enough.

“I just think the Lord provides … It just shows up,” she said. “The Lord has been providing for us over the years.”

There are standard bags of supplies, although different individuals have different needs and the pantry stock is never exactly the same.

Step inside the kitchen, past the bags of food and volunteers bustling about, and you see two prayers for charity and for the poor taped to the wall.

“May your Grace find expression in our efforts to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, clothe the naked and seek justice for the oppressed. Help us, through your Holy Spirit to turn sorrow and suffering into joy.”

Anyone wanting to make donations can bring them to St. Michael in Georgetown or Mary, Mother of Peace in Oak Orchard. Just earmark the items for Mary’s House or send donations earmarked for Mary’s House.

“I just like being able to help,” Polini said, trying to explain the best part of volunteering. “The smiles on people’s faces. It’s all good.”