Helping is a habit for the Pantry’s octogenarians

Do some people have a gene for helping others?  One might wonder as many of the octogenarians at Our Lady’s Pantry volunteer as a way of life.  They can’t seem to stop.

Phyllis, Brown (80), for example, spent her life in service to others, first as an occupational therapist, and then in a variety of volunteer opportunities, as her time allowed.

“But I always wanted to work in a food pantry,” she says, laughing.  “So here I am.”

Dick Gibbs (84) is another example, as is Al Petschl (84), Celine Martel (88), Joe O’Brien (81), and Barbara (83) and Grattan Murphy (84), each of whom has dedicated countless hours of their time working at Our Lady’s Pantry.

And then there is Leo Pelzel (84), who, along with Jack Dudzik (82), Paul Carren (87), and Bill Ferron (80), make Project Hunger possible at Prince of Peace and Our Lady of Guadalupe the first weekend of every month.

Eight men and women -- all octogenarians

Meet some of the Pantry’s octogenarians. From left to right: Top — Dick Gibbs, Leo Pelzel, Phyllis Brown; Bottom — Joe O’Brien, Celine Martel, Barbara and Grattan Murphy, and Al Petschl.

“Project Hunger donations are the Pantry’s financial lifeline,” says director Tom Bullaro.  “We could never survive without this support.  Nor could we survive without the energy of those who work on site.”

But the dedication of these volunteers to the Pantry reflects but a fraction of their time spent in their service to others.  Just in general, they have a reverence for life and offering hope.  If they see a need, they are inclined to fill it.  Together, these individuals have given thousands of hours of their lives doing everything conceivable from reading to first graders, to running meetings for seniors; to working at the Nearly New shop and other food pantries; to helping in hospice, prison ministries, and so much more.

Martel, who has just retired from Our Lady’s Pantry, has quite possibly clocked in more hours with this charity than any other individual — eight of those years in her eighties.  Martel has been the face of Our Lady’s Pantry since Day One, back in December 1999.  Among all the other volunteer work she has done over the years, the Pantry work was among the “most pleasant and rewarding,” she says.

Pelzel, as well, has spent close to two decades in service to those who may be food insecure, most of that time as coordinator of Project Hunger, passing donations and hundreds of pounds of food each month from the Mission and the Church to the Pantry.

“We do what we can for as long as we can,” he says.  “I thank the Lord we are so blessed by people’s generosity.”

Petschl remains enthusiastic about helping at Our Lady’s Pantry, and all the other volunteer work he continues to do, both here and in Minnesota, where he spends his summers.  Like our other octogenarians, Petschl never stops helping, and does so cheerfully, always with a smile on his face.

“I’ve been retired for 28 years and loved every second of it.”

Bullaro, can’t say enough about our octogenarians.  “They are always here and always helping,” he says.  “They just amaze me!”