By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
It’s amazing how many blessings trace back to the 41st International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1976.
That’s when Marion Quinnan Slack met Mother Teresa of Calcutta during service for the poor at the former St. Elizabeth Church in North Philadelphia and became inspired to do more for the needy.
“I was never so struck by the honesty of a person,” Slack said. “She never spoke about her own feelings, but always about the Bible or Jesus.”
This was just what Slack needed to hear. “I was getting cynical. I’d heard a lot about caring for the poor, but nothing was being done,” she said.
Slack was already active with the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations, which had a dual mission in ecumenism and social justice, but now she redoubled her efforts.
The theme of the Congress, as suggested by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, was the “Eucharist and the Hungers of the Human Family.” Slack’s focus would be physical hunger, a natural in a way, because she had studied nutrition at Marywood College in her native Scranton. So it was that Mary’s Cupboard was born.
Thirty-four years and 46,150 visits by the needy later, Mary’s Cupboard is still going strong and so is Slack, who is now 88. The cupboard started as a ministry at her parish, Queen of the Universe in Levittown, for distribution in Philadelphia.
From the beginning her chief supporter and assistant was her husband of 59 years, Donald, who was a veteran of the Normandy invasion. They met at GE in Scranton where they both worked, and when they started dating Marion made it clear she could not marry a person who wasn’t Catholic. Donald, who wasn’t active in a faith, agreed to become Catholic. They married just three months after they met.
However, the GE plant closed, throwing them both out of work.
In 1953, after a novena to St. Ann, in spite of financial uncertainty, they moved down to the Philadelphia area where work was more plentiful. With just $100 down and $54 a month they bought a brand-new house in Levittown in what is now Queen of the Universe Parish. They have been blessed with four daughters, Mary Ellen, Maureen, Eileen and Ann, as well as nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Donald, a former salesman who is now in nursing care, became as committed to the faith as Marion. He began his own rosary group for men, as well as supplying the organizational skills and muscle needed by Mary’s Cupboard.
Although the ministry began as outreach to needy families in Philadelphia, Slack quickly discovered there was great need in Bucks County, where they lived.
Today the group has more than 40 volunteers with Betty Romett and Ann Hyjurick as Slack’s chief assistants. It relies upon food donations collected at about 10 area parishes. In addition to the usual canned and dry foods stocked by most food cupboards, Mary’s Cupboard also distributes fresh meat, eggs and margarine. The local Pathmark and Giant Stores are generous donors of breads and pastries. So much food is received some is distributed to other food programs in the area.
Although the impetus for Mary’s Cupboard came through Catholic social teaching and it is operated in cooperation with Catholic Social Services in Levittown, it is and always has been truly ecumenical. There is never a question of one’s religion when there are needs to be met.
“All we do is feed the poor,” Slack said. That, in itself is evangelization, she believes.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.