A Beacon of Light

Dec. 8-14, 2005
A Beacon of Light
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Micheal’s Church Provides for those in Need CENTRAL SQUARE — One part of Oswego County is brighter these days because of the tireless efforts of 28 dedicated volunteers based in the Downstairs Scotty at St. Michael’s Church in Central Square. The volunteers, under the direction of Joyce Matzke, work to provide food, clothing and other household necessities to needy people in the area and beyond.

Housed in the basement of the church, the Downstairs Scotty serves as both a food pantry and a second-hand store. It is open to the public on Mondays and Fridays. The pantry provides food for between 300 to 500 people monthly. Matzke said the number of people needing food is increasing every day. This past Thanksgiving, 100 baskets of food were given out to the needy. Walmart and St. Michael’s Parish each donated $2,000 to make the food giveaway possible.

Matzke said around 200 customers shop at the second-hand store every week. Local people have donated all the clothing and furniture that is offered for sale. “The money that is made from the sales is used to buy food for the food pantry,” said Matzke. “We help as many people as we can. We have sent sneakers, socks and books to the schools here in Central Square. In addition, we send excess clothing to Catholic Charities, Unity Acres and St. Elizabeth House.”

The concept for the Downstairs Scotty was started 30 years ago when Father John Morris, pastor of St. Michael’s, asked Matzke’s late husband Leo to visit the second-hand store at St. Stephen’s Church in Phoenix. At that time, he served as a deacon at St. Michael’s. Matzke accompanied her husband to the second-hand store. Her husband was so impressed that he decided to ask his co-workers at New York Telephone if they had any excess clothes they would like to donate. Before long, the Matzkes had enough clothing to display on three tables in the basement of St Michael’s Church. “We offered the clothing free of charge, but no one took the clothes,” said Matzke. “But after I labeled the clothing with a low price, the people then bought the clothes.”

On Nov. 6 the volunteers were honored during Mass at St. Michael’s Church. Father John Smegelsky presented Matzke with a plaque, thanking her for 30 years of service. “It was great,” said Matzke. “I like volunteering at the Downstairs Scotty. I enjoy interacting with the people that come in. I like to listen to what they have to say. I also like the volunteers who help me — they’re a great bunch of people. They’re all from different stages of life and different religions. They are very good workers. It was great that they were honored during the Mass and that they were given flowers.” Volunteer John Phippan agreed that it was nice to have all the volunteers honored at the Mass. “Joyce is our backbone,” said Phippan. “She does so much.”

A parishioner of St. Michael’s, Phippan has volunteered for the Downstairs Scotty for the last 10 years. “When Deacon Leo got sick, he approached me to ask if I would help out,” said Phippan. I’ve enjoyed it very much. Helping the community makes me feel good. We’re helping a lot of people. All of us volunteers have different interests, but we have a lot of fun together.”

Phippan is in charge of carrying the donated food and clothing to the Downstairs Scotty. He also separates the clothing by size, gender and season. He then puts the seasonal items in storage. Jane Stinson, a parishioner of St. Michael’s since 1956, has volunteered with the Downstairs Scotty for the last eight years. “After I retired, I told Joyce I would be available to help,” said Stinson. Stinson is in charge of the food pantry and orders food from the Food Bank. “Volunteering gives me a sense of purpose,” said Stinson. “I feel I’m contributing to the community. I meet a lot of good people. Most are so grateful for the help we give them.” Stinson recounted how a family came to the Downstairs Scotty for food and had brought their four-year-old daughter with them. The next time the child came to the food pantry, she presented Stinson with an angel that she had made. “I felt wonderful when she gave it to me,” said Stinson.

Veronica Proulx and her husband Jim have volunteered at the Downstairs Scotty for the last 30 years. Veronica helps out in the kitchen and also collects money in the second-hand shop. Jim picks up food at the Food Bank and takes the trash to the waste disposal site. “I like that we meet a lot of nice people and work with a great staff,” said Veronica. “It’s a great place to work. Joyce has changed me — she’s an inspiration. I’m a better person because of working here.”

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