By Marie Thomas
What’s Up Eastern Shore
“Hello, Sister!” two volunteers cheerfully exclaimed in unison as Sister Patricia Gamgort, Executive Director of Saint Martin’s Ministries, walked into the Saint Martin’s Barn Thrift Shop. Gamgort smiled and exchanged pleasantries with the volunteers, who were sorting through dozens of bags of donated clothing and shoes. Winding her way through the space, she paused to bend down and extend her hand to a small child who was dancing around in one of the aisles and clutching a Disney videotape to his chest. He smiled shyly as he murmured a “hello,” and Gamgort reminded him to grab some free books on his way out. The original wooden rafters of the former barn remain intact, along with the actual cow stalls that now serve as small offices for case workers to interview and register new clients. Walk a little further and you’ll find the kitchen, a new addition to the structure, which is stocked with all types of food—from dry goods to fresh fruits, vegetables, and frozen food. “The Maryland Food Bank is very good to us,” comments Gamgort while holding up a case of bright-red cherry tomatoes.
Saint Martin’s Barn, established in 1983, is an outreach ministry that provides direct services to the poor: food, clothing, and limited funds for preventing evictions and electricity cutoffs. The Barn shares financial subsidies totaling over $55,000 with approximately 150 families per year in addition to feeding an average of 3,000 people per year, the value of which is approximately $25,000. While Saint Martin’s Ministries primarily serves Caroline County, services are also provided to the other Mid-Shore counties. “What makes Saint Martin’s Ministries worthwhile is, hopefully, eliminating the choice between eating and paying rent,” says Gamgort.
In June of 1993, a decade after the Barn was formed, Saint Martin’s House opened its doors as a transitional residence where homeless women and children could work towards self-sufficiency in a safe and stable environment. During its 17 years of service, the House has been home to more than 600 women and children. The average cost of housing residents in a one-year period is $55,000. The staff assists women in teaching/nurturing skills for parenting, budgeting, and household management, in addition to providing counseling services and helping them to prepare for their GED, enroll in college courses, and find employment and permanent housing.
Saint Martin’s Ministries had a humble beginning on November 3, 1982, a day that happened to coincide with the annual feast of Saint Martin. Two Benedictine Sisters at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Ridgely, who were deeply concerned about poverty in the Mid-Shore region, prayed to Saint Martin for guidance. Later that evening, a third Sister commented that someone must be praying to Saint Martin because she had just seen a mouse—holding onto the centuries-old story that the appearance of this mouse was a sign that Saint Martin was answering someone’s prayers. Legend has it that Saint Martin de Porres (born in 1579 in Litna, Peru) left crumbs of food for the mice at the monastery because he couldn’t bear to see them starve, much to the chagrin of his fellow Brothers. Striking a deal with the mice, Saint Martin continued to feed them only if they agreed to stay in the barn and not crawl around the monastery.
Saint Martin’s is always in need of volunteers to lend a hand in a variety of ways. At the Barn, volunteers help sort and inventory clothes and other goods for the Thrift Shop, prepare food boxes, and interview clients. Volunteers are needed at the House to babysit, transport and tutor residents, and help maintain the facility. Handymen and those able to offer professional services are especially needed. “Everyone’s assistance is most welcome, from high school age to retirees,” says Gamgort.
For information on becoming a volunteer, e-mail Sister Patricia Gamgort at pcorta [at] gmail [dot] com or call 410-634-2497, ext. 1434.