“Everyone here is an angel, can you see their wings?”
That’s the question Faith Mission Inc. Chairwoman and President Mary Joesten asked in explaining her organization’s work.
It’s not hard to find something to do when walking around Faith Mission, the Mineola food pantry at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, located at 132 Jefferson Ave.
Whether it’s filling up the refrigerators in the kitchen with chicken, taking apart boxes of string cheese to conserve space or wheeling pallets from another Thursday morning delivery, there is always something to do.
“It’s hard work, let me tell you,” said Joesten, whose grand reputation precedes her. “But no one here is complaining.”
Every Thursday morning, roughly 20 volunteers donate their time and energy to put together over 250 boxes of food for the families that line up every Saturday.
From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Faith Mission opens and gives as many boxes as they can to whatever families need them. Volunteers said the line can start as early as 8 a.m. and stretch for blocks.
In the last year alone, Faith Mission provided over 11,000 boxes to families in need.
About three deliveries come in every Thursday from Long Island Cares, Island Harvest and the volunteers themselves.
Around holiday time, specifically Thanksgiving, Joesten may ask for some help from St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan to make sure Faith Mission can give out turkeys as well.
In the room that used to hold the church’s Noah’s Ark Preschool, which ceased operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, shelves, tables, boxes and cans tower over the volunteers.
Each box holds enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner alongside some snacks for the kids, Joesten said. She makes sure that every box that goes to a family contains cereal, even if that means spending some of the mission’s money to guarantee it.
“The cereal is very important to me,” Joesten said. “The kids need their breakfast.”
Joesten and her late husband, Edward, founded Faith Mission in 1969. It originally started as a soup kitchen based out of South Jamaica, Queens, and has since expanded into the current hospitality center in Mineola with multiple stops in between.
In 1999, Faith Mission opened its doors at the Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Freeport.
In 2012, the soup kitchen moved into Roosevelt’s First United Methodist Church in Roosevelt.
Before coming to Mineola almost three years ago as of this March, Joesten had her last operation at the Pope Francis Hospitality Center at Elmont’s St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
While in Elmont, Joesten was named Nassau County’s Senior Citizen Woman of the Year in 2018 by then-Executive Laura Curran.
Again Faith Mission is looking to move locations while Joesten searches for a space that can let her expand her services.
“I want people to come in and have breakfast, maybe a lunch, before they take their boxes and go on their way,” Joesten said. “I’m desperate to get my own place one day.”
Among the controlled chaos is Mineola’s Village Justice Scott Fairgrieve, who said he learned about Faith Mission through word of mouth, like everyone else who was helping out.
“I found out about here when I was talking to a friend,” said Fairgrieve, who volunteers before working at the court in village hall just one block over. “It’s great what Mary is doing here.”
Aside from the food, a small office in the back of the room is filled with clothes and jackets, all donated. Faith Mission recently held a coat drive that Joesten said was able to provide every child who came with a jacket.
For their Christmas drive, they gave toys to more than 300 families, although the holidays are not the only time you can walk out with a toy.
Joesten says if a child comes Saturday with a good report card, the youngster will leave with a toy in hand.
“Sometimes a little bribery goes a long way,” Joesten joked.
Additional community events include backpack drives in the fall held in conjunction with other local organizations and businesses.
With the holiday season over, Joesten said the donations may drop a little, but she hopes they will pick back up, as she expects more families to start coming throughout the year.
The nonprofit is also going to begin collecting Easter donations, which include baskets and candy.
Joesten said anyone interested in helping out can stop by the church on Thursday mornings or go to Faith Mission’s website to find out more information.
“Everything we want and the things we hope to do,” Joesten said, “it’s never for us. We want to provide for the people”