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Co-op volunteers find that helping others is a joy across the ages

ORANGEBURG—Kay Hughes is 99 years old, only a few months shy of turning 100. Many people would not blame her if she stayed home to rest.

Instead, three mornings a week Hughes climbs into a car with Agnes Glover, executive director of Cooperative Church Ministries of Orangeburg, and the two women head out for another day of helping needy people.

Hughes is one of several members of Holy Trinity Church in Orangeburg who volunteer at the outreach, which was started in 1988 and now serves more than 2,000 families a year from Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.

The ministry office is located in a 5,000-square-foot building that used to be the Holman Grocery Store on Russell Street, and is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Clients receive food, clothing, assistance with utility bills and medications. Household items such as furniture, utensils and bedding are available for people left homeless by fires or other disasters. The ministry also pays for motel rooms, bus tickets, gas and other needs when possible.

None of this could happen without regular contributions from 32 area churches. Catholics work alongside United Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, AMEs and members of non-denominational churches. The outreach also receives donations of money and supplies from the community, plus food from area Walmart and Bi-Lo stores.

Holy Trinity played a major role in starting the project. The idea sprouted from the work of the late Peggy Atwell, from United Methodist, who started serving soup and cornbread to hungry people back in the ’80s. Xaverian Brother Jeremiah O’Leary  who served at Holy Trinity at the time, saw a need for more outreach in the community and worked with clergy and lay people from other area churches to lift the cooperative off the ground.

Hughes and others from the parish have been there almost since the doors opened. She has done a little bit of everything at the outreach, and especially enjoys working in the front office with clients.

“I’m in love with this place, I guess,” she said. “I love what I’m doing. I’d rather be here to help people than just sit at home. It’s just so important to me to be able to talk with the people and do what I can to help them. If I make it to 100, I’ll still be here!”

Pam Phillips, a registered nurse, checks blood pressures on Wednesdays and offers health information to clients.

“One of my passions is to help those in need,” Phillips said. “Your heart just goes out to people when you hear their stories. I’m able to answer some of their questions and hopefully help them get some of the care they need.”

Elizabeth Douglas and Gloria Woodruff spend most of their time sorting and giving out donated clothes. Tom Woodruff drives a truck to pick up food donations from Walmart. All three are in their 80s and have been volunteers for more than 20 years.

“It’s just a blessing to be able to get up, get out in the morning and help people,” Mrs. Woodruff said.


The waiting is the hardest part

One thousand people in South Carolina are waiting for a life-saving phone call.

They need a donated kidney, liver, heart, lungs or other organ, and they join 125,000 others nationwide who are also waiting for a suitable donor.

These people are why advocates for donation, including the recently crowned Miss South Carolina, urge everyone to sign up.

Robert Keeder, a member of St. Peter Church in Columbia, knows how important it is.

Keeder is best known in the Midlands as the “Adopt-a-Turkey” man because he coordinates massive Thanksgiving and Easter meals for the homeless and needy each year.

For the past two years, however, he has also been a primary caregiver for longtime friend Danny Belk, 64, of West Columbia. Belk was first diagnosed with kidney failure in 2011 and placed on the regional donor list in the fall of 2013.

Pam Corley, the goddaughter of Keeder and Belk, helps him with things like cooking and transportation to doctor’s visits.

“I’ve known Danny for more than 40 years and it’s hard to see him like this,” Keeder said. “He’s not a selfish person in any way and he has always been the giver for others. As his friend, I’m just trying to help in any way I can. It’s a challenge because you never know what to expect each day.”

The Catholic Miscellany: 'You've got to have faith in God as the number one thing. If you don't, you might as well give up the fight.' Read more about organ donation at was five hours away from a transplant on Aug. 9 at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston when he received devastating news: Doctors had found cancer cells in the donor kidney.

“It felt like a sucker punch, but on the other hand we know what to expect now,” Belk said, listing the positives of the trip.

That outlook is how Belk deals with his condition. He goes through 10 hours a night of home dialysis and constant waiting and searching for another donor. Some living donors have volunteered but don’t meet the criteria. He keeps a bag packed so he can report to MUSC within hours.

Belk’s experience isn’t uncommon, according to Tracy Armstrong, CEO and executive director of Donate Life South Carolina in Greenville. Many people who need transplants are called once or twice before they receive a match that works, she said. That’s why it’s important for people to sign up to be donors. Currently, 1.4 million South Carolina residents are on the organ donation registry, but not all of them will meet the qualifications for successful donation.

Belk was able to continue working as the president of Agape Senior Care in Columbia until March.

Now, he tries to get out of the house every day to run errands or have lunch with friends. He also plays and walks with his beloved cocker spaniels, Hunter and Miss Lillie; and can occasionally make a trip to Edisto Island, one of his favorite spots. He said a support group for transplant patients is also a huge blessing.

“You have to surround yourself with people who love you and support you, because if you don’t all this can take over your mind,” Belk said. “It’s important not to stay in your room or in bed. I try not to look at the dialysis machine during the day. I just don’t think about it.”

Prayer sustains him. Friends keep him in their prayers, add him to prayer chains and lists, and send him Scripture passages and prayers through text messages.

“You’ve got to have faith in God as the number one thing,” Belk said. “If you don’t, you might as well give up the fight.”

To learn more about organ donation and how to register to be a donor, visit


Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach: Spreading hope for 25 years

JOHNS ISLAND—When a group of Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy set up a small house on a rural island in September 1989 to provide community outreach services, Hurricane Hugo threw their efforts into high gear almost overnight. They haven’t slowed down in the 25 years since.

Sisters Mary Albert Greer, Marie Amelia Ferillo and Carol Wentworth were part of the small staff in those founding years, spreading hope to the people of the sea islands with food, clothing and emergency funds. They named their outreach the Christian Hope House, and it would grow and expand to become Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach, as it is known today.

As the center’s original planner and director, the late Sister Mary Albert led the small staff of seven with her trademark calm demeanor and creative approach. Her easy, comfortable way with people helped set the tone of the organization from the beginning.

“We’re here to listen to the people and find out their needs; with God’s help and the diverse gifts of this staff, we will respond,” she would say in her slow, Texan accent, recalled Sister Mary Joseph Ritter.

As her successor, Sister Mary Joseph remembered the close-knit staff sharing both the good and bad during weekly meetings so they would know they weren’t “walking alone.”

When the sisters first started Christian Hope House, large containers were placed in the backyard for food and clothing rooms and storage space. Sisters de Neri Faase, Marcella Zwingmann and Eugenia DuFrehn, plus Jakki Jefferson, were also part of the first team, and they all took turns visiting the needy on James, Johns and Wadmalaw Islands.

“We each had a geographic area to visit and get to know people in their homes,” recalled Sister Carol. “We

homes,” recalled Sister Carol. “We were ready to meet the many needs we found.

“When Hurricane Hugo hit a few weeks later, our little house served as a relief center,” she continued. “No one was turned away because we received donations from all over the country. We started a program for home repairs. We offered education programs at the little table in the small kitchen, offering hope to several women. We served the migrant farm workers in those early days, too.”

The goal, said Sister Mary Joseph, was to help people help themselves. Supplies flowed into the Hope House to stock the food pantry. One day, Sister Mary Albert deftly handled a donation of a truck full of frozen yogurt.

“It was a real challenge finding space for it,” she said at the time, “but it quickly disappeared as the people were grateful to receive such a treat.”

Even in those early days, Sister Mary Joseph said, one of the goals was to involve young people so they could understand they had the power to change things for the better. For her, a particular young man in the after-school program stood out.

“He later became a volunteer tutor for other children in the program, graduated with honors from high school, completed college and got an excellent job,” she recalled. “He and his mother frequently visit to say hello and ‘thanks!’”

Another favorite memory is helping a family secure housing funds so they could move out of a substandard, rat-infested trailer and qualify for a Habitat for Humanity Home. The family members now volunteer with both Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach and Habitat for Humanity, working with other families to help them find decent housing.

What’s changed the most are the facilities, said Sister Carol. The small house and outdoor containers grew to become a new building on Brownswood Road. The mobile health center van evolved into an onsite trailer that served as a pre-natal and dental clinic — where many adult clients received dental care for the first time in their lives — which then grew to the current state-of-the-art Wellness Center. Classrooms replaced the kitchen table, eventually expanding to a separate education building made possible by a donation from a couple who volunteered in the afterschool program.

Sister Carol recalled how the outreach started the NunBetter Roofing Company, with Ms. Jefferson and a pizza deliveryman from Alabama as its first helpers. The company was part of the NAILS program that helped repair more than 300 island homes.

During those days, the organization served hundreds of islanders in need. One such family included Shantell, her mother and brother, who lived in horrible conditions, using a five-gallon bucket for a toilet. The outreach had a septic system installed and built a full bathroom for the family. Shantell enrolled in an education program and completed her GED.

“It’s been exciting and enriching to see the many changes over the years, to see the children in the afterschool program grow up to be fine young people and adults,” said Sister Carol. “I recently met someone at the DMV who told me that Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach saved her home by helping to pay the mortgage. I’ve been blessed in many ways by being a part of its history from the beginning.”

Through all of this growth and change, one thing remains the same, she noted: The staff and volunteers have for 25 years served those living on the margins with great respect and careful attention.

“Their respect for and care of others in need is genuine. It’s obvious that they’re there not just for a job, but because they care about their sisters and brothers,” Sister Mary Joseph said. “I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Jill Jackson Ledford, current director of the outreach, said the organization will not drift from the mission that the original team put in place a quarter of a century ago. “We will continue to improve, to enhance what we’re doing to serve more people more effectively. One of the ways we’re doing this is to look at the best practices of organizations that have successfully moved people out of poverty. And we will continue taking care of what’s been passed down to us so we can ... share the legacy,” she said.

“The mission of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach will continue to grow because it was established with God’s blessings,” Sister Carol said.

Submitted by Our Lady of Mercy Outreach.

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Franciscan Sister Margaret Jones dies at 77

ASTON, PA.—Franciscan Sister Margaret Jones, formerly Sister Jozeta Marie, died in Assisi House on Sept. 6. She was 77. She had been a professed member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia for 55 years.

The Mass of Christian Burial was held in Assisi House on Sept. 9. Burial was in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery in Aston.

Sister Margaret was born in Detroit, Mich. She later moved to Allentown, where she was a member of St. Catherine parish and a graduate of Allentown Central Catholic High School.

She entered the congregation in 1956 and professed her first vows in 1959. Sister Margaret earned a bachelor’s in English from Neumann University in 1967 and a master’s in religious education from LaSalle College in 1982.

Sister Margaret celebrated her golden jubilee in July 2009.

Throughout her life, she worked primarily in education, parish ministry, social services and healthcare.

Sister Margaret spent 25 years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and taught at St. Pius X High School in Pottstown from 1983 to 1987.

She was one of the founding sisters of St. Mary’s Franciscan Shelter in Phoenixville and served there from 1987 to 1991.

Since 1997, Sister Margaret had worked as a chaplain at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne.

She was also a chaplain for six years in the Diocese of Allentown and served at St. Joseph Hospital in Reading from 1991 to 1997.

Sister Margaret ministered for nine years in the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., where she taught at St. John the Beloved School from 1968 to 1969. From 1969-1971 she taught at St. Paul School and returned there to teach from

1974 to 1980. Additional teaching assignments included St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring, Md., from 1959 to 1963; St. John Vianney School in Orlando, Fla., from 1963 to 1968; and St. Paul the Apostle School in Spartanburg, S.C., from 1971 to 1974.

From 1980 to 1981, Sister Margaret served in the Diocese of Caguas in Puerto Rico in parish ministry in Comerio.

Then from 1981 to 1983, she worked in religious formation at Santa Maria de los Angeles Convent in Barranquitas.

In 2014, she moved to Assisi House in Aston where she served in prayer ministry until her death.

Sister Margaret is survived by her brother, John Jones; several nieces and nephews; and by her Franciscan family.

Donations in her name can be made to the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation, 609 S. Convent Road, Aston, PA 19014.


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