Mary Joesten: Founder and Director, Faith Mission Outreach Center
Every Saturday for the past 11 years Mary Joesten
of Oceanside makes her
way to the Faith Mission Outreach Center
(FMOC) located in the basement of Our Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Freeport.
gets there by 9 a.m. and stays until her
work is done.
gives them a lifeline and hope.
and a volunteer carry tables across the room to accommodate the growing number of people.
small stature, Mary
doesn't ask for assistance.
This mother of five and grandmother of nine gets things done, without any funding from government agencies or grants.
"She's been doing this forever, every week," volunteer Karen Holmgaard says about Mary
has about 16 teams of eight to ten people who rotate shifts every Saturday to prepare, cook, serve and clean for breakfast and lunch for about 100 "friends," as Mary
has also arranged for an Immigration Officer to come every week and help people apply for working papers if they qualify.
is trying to give her
friends as many opportunities as possible to get them off the street and living a full life.
In the busy kitchen, a volunteer named Carmen ladles out meatballs, singing as she
works - she
has a beautiful voice!
A conga line of volunteers hands out the hot lunch trays to the friends while Mary
orchestrates the entire project, directing everything and everyone like a symphony conductor.
Any leftovers are sealed in plastic containers to be given out later.
Mary started the FMOC in 1969 in South Jamaica with her late husband, Ed Joeston, affectionately known as Deacon Ed.
is passionate about her
vision of a place where veterans would get the treatment they require under one roof.
One of the reasons why there are so many homeless veterans, she
believes, is that they are dispersed to many different facilities for treatment and they end up falling through the cracks.
While talking to me, Mary rummages through her
purse and fishes out an envelope.
"Before I forget," she
asks one of the volunteers, "Is Freddie here?
tells me, is a homeless Vietnam veteran who has his
mail forwarded to her
wasn't at the FMOC
that day, so she'll have to hold onto the letter for another week.
doesn't know where he
lives or sleeps.
"Some of these men are serving three and four tours," Mary
"They come home, and we forget what they went through.
They need transitional space.
is especially concerned about our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
"They would have been dead in another war," Mary
explains, but because of our advanced medical capabilities many more soldiers are surviving their horrific injuries.
is also worried about the aging population of Vietnam veterans.
"Some of our Vietnam veterans are falling into the senior [citizen] category," she
"They are still on the streets, but many should be going to nursing homes."
believes that there are not enough services available to treat our veterans, let alone help for them if an emergency arises.
"We have little to offer them," she
says, "but we expect them to assimilate into society, in spite of their physical and mental problems."
Administration is doing a heroic job, but because of the overwhelming number of veterans in need, the VA would welcome help from the private sector to provide additional services," she
"When they were called to active duty," she
says, "they entered the service as healthy, educated young men and women."
But, as Mary
knows all too well, many are not in that condition when they return to civilian life.
meets people who are struggling everyday to regain their dignity.
Their struggles are real, and right now their options are limited.
is fighting to get the services that our heroes deserve.