By Mary Kay McPartlin
Photography by Michael Lieurance
Marcy Ferriter finds Christ in the people she feeds every month through her work as coordinator for Mobile Pantry of Portage County. Feeding the hungry was something Marcy learned from her parents.
“I feel that I have made a circle,” says Marcy. “I was blessed with great parents because they taught me by example and by doing. My father was not Catholic, but he was a terrific man and he cared so much about his fellow man. He would go to Mass with us when he could. He was always there for the special occasions. He finally converted to Catholicism a few years before he died.”
Marcy remembers her father, who worked as a chef, served the illegal immigrants who worked in his kitchen as respectfully as he would serve royalty their Christmas dinner. Her mother, a devout Polish Catholic, taught her daughter the importance of caring for people with illnesses and disabilities.
“I think of my own family and how my background has influenced me my whole life,” Marcy says.
Her family cared for extended family members who were homebound due to rheumatoid arthritis and shell shock from World War II. Marcy’s grandmother had limited access to food outside of what she grew in her garden.
“My grandmother depended upon what other people would share,” says Marcy. “When I was little, I helped care for my family. My mother and dad taught me these basic and wonderful values. What I learned and experienced as a young person has followed me for my whole life.”
“Our ministry is twofold not only to feed people, but also to provide them with some conversation. We can minister to them in their food and their spirit. Some of these people have outlived their families or people they may know.”
She learned of the program almost nine years ago through Portage County Health and Human Services. The county was planning to phase out Mobile Pantry because the coordinator’s additional responsibilities kept her too busy to run the pantry.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of these folks being stuck and working so hard to get food in their pantries,” Marcy says.
Marcy took over as coordinator for Mobile Pantry, and with the help of her husband, Dennis, has expanded the outreach. “I’m blessed with my husband, who is my right-hand man,” she says.
With a brochure and an introductory letter, Marcy is always prepared to explain the mission of Mobile Pantry to individuals or businesses interested in helping feed the hungry. Dennis regularly makes presentations to businesses and schools about how Mobile Pantry can help and be helped.
“You never know when a business is looking for a project, especially around the holidays,” Marcy says. “We had to increase the amount of donations we got to take care of the people we were serving. I’m a strong believer in educating the community that there is need out there, the need to take care of our neighbors. I started talking to groups and putting out brochures and Mobile Pantry just grew.”
The program started in 2002. Today, it serves 45 homes and 98 people, 34 of them children. Recipients live in rural and outlying areas of Portage County, including Rosholt, Amherst, Amherst Junction, Almond, Bancroft and Junction City. The recipients have limited income due to loss of employment or poor health, a medical condition or disability or unreliable transportation.
Unlike traditional food pantries, Mobile Pantry delivers food to those in need once a month. Deliveries are made every month on the second and fourth Thursdays.
Home base for Mobile Pantry is at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Stevens Point. The church opened its doors to the ministry a year ago when Marcy needed to move operations.
Marcy has a volunteer staff of 18 who help her pack bags and boxes of food and personal care items. In addition to her regular volunteers, people of all ages, including children, volunteer their time and treasure to help feed those in need.
“Getting the youngsters involved at an early age is a great example by doing,” Marcy says. “We are carrying on the idea of giving to your neighbors. I’m really thrilled to be a part of that education.”
Volunteers also assist in making deliveries with the Mobile Pantry van, a job that is part food drop-off, part social interaction, with a side of detective work. The van was donated by Len Dudas Motors. The business has donated two vans, and does the maintenance.
“We have great people who volunteer for us and drivers who drive for us,” says Marcy. “Our ministry is twofold, not only to feed people, but also to provide them with some conversation. We can minister to them in their food and their spirit. Some of these people have outlived their families or people they know. We can keep an eye on them, and see if things are OK in their houses and if they are healthy. We pass along any concerns we have to social workers.”
For many of the people on the Mobile Pantry route, their monthly delivery is as much a social gathering as it is food distribution. Some of the older people on the route even dress up for the occasion.
“How fun is that?” Marcy says. “How good is it that they look forward to this person coming? When we get hugs and tears and ‘God Bless You,’ it’s like the deepest reward to know what you are doing is really making a difference in someone’s life.”
Some stops involve several recipients living near each other. Many of these groups share the food with each other, preparing group meals or passing along items needed more by another person.
The similarity to Christ’s feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fish is crystal clear to Marcy. One of her business cards for Mobile Pantry references the Gospel of Mark. “It’s where Christ says, ‘My heart is moved with pity for this crowd,’” says Marcy. “I reflect on that Gospel when I see people who are hungry.”
Another prayer that speaks to Marcy and her outreach mission is by Samuel F. Pugh:
Oh, God, when I have food, help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work, help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a warm home, help me remember the homeless;
When I am without pain, help me remember those who suffer;
And remembering, help me to destroy my complacency and bestir my compassion.
Make me concerned enough to help, by word and deed, those who cry out for what we take for granted.
“These words are what I believe,” Marcy says. “I wish everyone would be able to think this way. Social justice is very important to me because we are all God’s children. We should all be concerned about each other. So many of us are one paycheck away from poverty.”