June 27, 2014

Appeal helps ministry lay cloak of charity in Tell City Deanery

In this 2009 photo, Leroy and Marlene Oser, members of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Siberia, work at Martin’s Cloak, a Tell City Deanery food pantry that is partially funded by money raised through the United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope annual campaign. (Submitted photo)

In this 2009 photo, Leroy and Marlene Oser, members of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Siberia, work at Martin’s Cloak, a Tell City Deanery food pantry that is partially funded by money raised through the United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope annual campaign. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

The story of a Tell City Deanery food pantry begins with a fourth-century legend about St. Martin of Tours.

Tradition and art tell the tale of the young soldier riding toward a town one winter day, when he noticed a poor man at the gates of the town. The man was poorly dressed, shivering and begging for alms.

Having nothing to give him, St. Martin, a catechumen at the time, split his own cloak in two, giving half to the beggar.

That night as St. Martin slept, Christ appeared to him in a dream wearing the half-cloak the soldier had given the poor man. He heard Christ say, “Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.”

At St. Martin of Tours Parish in Siberia, a ministry named for this story continues the spirit of charity the tale evokes.

Martin’s Cloak food pantry, located in the parish’s basement, serves the poor of Crawford, Dubois, Perry and Spencer counties.

The pantry, which is open from 8-11 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, is partially funded by the United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope annual campaign.

The pantry is supplied in part by food drives held in various parishes, and is also part of a Perry County food coalition.

[Tell City] Catholic Charities serves as fiscal agent for the coalition,” said agency director Joan Hess.

She said appeal funds help buy food for Martin’s Cloak pantry.

“They run on a shoestring budget,” she said of the ministry.

The food pantry was started at the parish in 1993 by Mary Julia “Judy” Colby. Two years later, there was a change in leadership.

“In 1995, [Benedictine] Father Jerry King asked if I would manage the food pantry,” said St. Martin of Tours Parish member Marlene Oser, who had been volunteering for the ministry since its inception. “I didn’t want to run it alone, but I said I would help.”

Oser, now 81, co-managed the pantry for three years with fellow parishioner Mary Beckman.

Then a new co-manager came along—in the form of a husband.

“In 1998, Leroy [Oser] and I were married,” she said. “He was interested in what we were doing. He came with me and thought it was something we needed to do, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

“We order food, see that it gets here, set up and get the pantry ready each time, get the food on the shelves. We have about 45 or 50 volunteers, and I make up the list so we have four to five help each time.

“We’re serving between 40-45 families each time. I know of one family that we serve that has 11 people in it.”

According to Hess, Martin’s Cloak served 1,207 families in 2013.

The families served “are all very rural people,” she explained. “A lot live so remote that they can hardly afford gas to get to a job. They’re very poor people.”

All who come are served, said Hess.

“They’re asked questions about income and who’s working in the family, but nobody is turned away. You don’t know all the circumstances. Anyone who bothers to come will be served,” she said.

Those who come are thankful.

“A lot of them will say, ‘I don’t know what we’d do without you’ and ‘You’re really doing a good thing here,’ ” Marlene Oser said.

Both in their 80s, the Osers are trying to find replacements to take over the running of Martin’s Cloak.

“We both enjoy the work and have enjoyed it all these years,” said Marlene Oser. “But we’re not in that good of health anymore.”

According to Hess, as long as the ministry continues, it will be supplemented by United Catholic Appeal funds to help feed the poor of the Tell City Deanery.

“If we didn’t have United Catholic Appeal funds,” said Hess, “we probably wouldn’t be able to serve as many as we do.”
 

(For more information about the United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope, log on to www.archindy.org/uca or call the Office of Stewardship and Development at 317-236-1425 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1425.)

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