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Labor of love: How one Annapolis parish is serving hundreds of immigrant families

It’s not clear exactly how many local Latino families the Our Lady of Guadalupe Ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis has served since it began two years ago. 

But if director Tamara Beigel had to put a number on it: “Several hundred,” she said. 

What began as mostly legal aid to keep local Latino families together has grown to a full parish ministry providing everything from legal services and transportation to medical appointments, to prayer, a youth group, weekly bags of food, diapers, school supplies and clothing. This Christmas, the clothing committee, which operates a donation center out of a volunteer's home, gave each member of 65 families clothes, shoes and blankets. 

“They are the most beautiful people and have such beautiful faith,” Beigel said. 

Most of the families served by the ministry came to Annapolis from El Salvador to escape violence. Many are undocumented.

“Every single one has a story,” Beigel said, detailing some of the horrors past clients have faced in their journey to Annapolis. “It’s not an easy decision to risk life and death to come here.” 

Once here, the families often face issues with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and those that have been torn apart by the immigration process, often struggle to afford basic necessities like food, diapers and transportation. 

Each family has different needs and meeting those needs has enabled the ministry to continually expand. While it may not always be immediately clear how the ministry will meet those needs, Beigel said she prays to Our Lady to intercede and each time God has provided. 

“When there’s a problem or a need, I give it to her and suddenly the right person with the right talents comes about,” she said. “We really are here to serve her vulnerable children and we’re taking our cues from her.” 

Currently, the ministry has a diverse group of about 90 volunteers that include members of St. Mary’s Parish, local attorneys, immigrants and community members, like Joanne O’Keeffe, who said she heard about the cause and wanted to help.

Joanne O’Keeffe, a volunteer with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis cleans donated strawberries. The berries were distribute to more than 30 local Hispanic families as part of the ministry’s weekly food delivery.

 

O’Keeffe was among the volunteers who come on Friday afternoons to portion, pack and transport food for the families. In late 2018, the ministry was feeding 32 families. 

“For some, this is the only food they will have this week,” Beigel said. 

As she portioned fresh lettuce, volunteer Marge Frankovich said providing food to the families is “a labor of love.”  

Along with lettuce, Frankovich, O’Keeffe and about five other volunteers packed bags with tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, potatoes, two loaves of French bread, egg noodles, rice noodles and canned fruit — all generously donated by Bel Air Produce and Graul’s Market. St. Mary’s generously offers the ministry use of the Carroll House to pack the food each Friday.

Beigel said each volunteer with the food committee will come at least once a month to help pack and distribute food. But some give their time every week, like Nelson Peña, who coordinates a group of men to deliver the food to the families every Friday evening. 

“After a long week, these men will work to deliver food, sometimes being out ‘till well past 9 p.m.,” Beigel said. 

But the men don’t just deliver the food and leave. Beigel said they will check on the families, ensure each family is OK and report back to Beigel with any additional needs the family might have. 

“We serve the whole family,” she said. That includes children. 

Thanks to donations primarly from Walk the Walk Foundation in Millersville, the ministry provides diapers, baby wipes, and baby food for 25 infants and toddlers. And it’s starting a youth group for the teens of the families. 

“We realized these teens need to feel valued and integrated in the community,” Beigel said. “We want them to have dreams and visions of their future.” Beigel said she has volunteers who are artists, musicians and dancers that are working with the teens.

The families served by the ministry are both grateful and learning that there are those in the community they can trust, Beigel said. 

“They feel they can trust us, that we are a place they can go when these issues arise,” she said “If not for us, they’d likely have no place to go.” 

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