Meet our “bread lady”

December 8 — 6:25 a.m., Wimauma, Fl:  In the pre-dawn hour on Saturday morning, all is quiet at Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry.  A dozen or more clients are starting to line up by the front door, speaking with one another in hushed tones.  Nearby, the earliest Pantry volunteers are hauling boxes of fresh produce from our big refrigerator and onto our porch.  Soon. they will be loaded into family cars.

Man and woman unpacking a car full of bread.

Al Petschl is unpacking the car full of bread and other baked goods that Mary McDonnell, our “bread lady," brings to us from Publix each Saturday.

As the first hint of a sunrise appears in the Eastern sky, a car creeps up near our overhang and stops.   Mary McDonnell steps out.  Mary has come to be affectionately known as our “bread lady.”  Our volunteers rush over to greet her and to unpack her car, which is stuffed with breads and baked goods from Publix.

This is a routine McDonnell has followed, she says, “for years and years.”  Arriving among the earliest of all the Pantry volunteers, she is a bit of a mystery helper.  She arrives so early that few of our regulars, who come later in the morning, would recognize her if they were to see her on the street.  But that's okay with her.  She just wants to help.

“My husband Mark and I get to Publix about 6:10 a.m. every Saturday,” Mary says.  “Doors are locked, of course, but we just ring the bell.  They are always waiting for us with lots of donations for the Pantry.”

Anita Bullaro, co-director of the Pantry with her husband Tom, says Aldi's, Sav-a-Lot, Big Lots, Panera, and Costco also donate food that Pantry drivers pick up during the week.

“By the time Mary leaves on Saturday morning, our supply of bread and baked goods is filling every spare space in our front room, ready to be passed on to our families.

“We thank Mary — and all our other volunteers — who give even a little bit of their time to care for those who have less than they do,” says Bullaro.  “It is that little bit of time, multiplied many many times over, that has allowed Our Lady's Pantry to thrive for almost 20 years!”