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Businesswoman devotes energy to local pantry


It’s hard to imagine Mary Monahan standing still for more than a few moments at a time. So when she was laid off from her marketing job in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, she decided to use the break as a path of service, rather than an enforced vacation.

“I’d been working in marketing for about 15 years,” said the Wantagh native and mother of two boys. “Even though my job wasn’t seen as essential, I knew I wanted to stay busy.”

Monahan’s “door-side” pickup happened almost by accident. A friend had an extra case of vitamins, Monahan said. “She didn’t know what to do with them. So I took them.”

Monahan offered the vitamins to her local food pantry at St. France de Chantal Catholic Church, in Wantagh, where she is a lifelong parishioner. “I was baptized there and confirmed there,” she said. “I was married there. My boys were baptized and confirmed there.”

Monahan knew many families overbought in the early days of the pandemic, and that local food pantries needed donations. With so many people either laid off or furloughed, many who would not ordinarily need the pantries’ services found themselves food insecure.

So she balanced the two sides, with the pantry at St. Frances as the fulcrum. “I put a bin on my front porch for people to drop off any kind of extras in any amount,” Monahan said. “Sometimes, people feel embarrassed if they don’t have a lot of food or it’s not something great.” Some people aren’t comfortable giving strangers their addresses, she added. With the bin, “people can drop off anything, even just a can of tuna or soup, if that’s what they have. That’s a meal for somebody!”

Wanting to do more, in June, Monahan started advertising on social media platforms like Facebook. Her message was simple: She offered contactless, door-side pickup of any nonperishable food. Donors had only to put their extras in shopping bags and leave them outside their homes on Saturday mornings between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The donors could then notify Monahan by text or telephone, and she put them on the list for pickups.

Monahan makes the rounds each week with her two sons. The older of the two, Mike, 23, is a senior at Molloy College and works as a bank teller. The younger, Jack, 16, is a junior at Chaminade High School who is studying remotely.

The pickups are delivered to the pantry at St. Frances on Mondays or Tuesdays, Monahan said.

Some pantries have special needs, like infant formula or women’s hygiene products. To begin addressing such needs, “I want to start some focused collections in addition to the regular rounds,” Monahan said.

While she is eager to return to her regular work, the break has been healthy for her, too. “It’s been a welcome pause,” she said. “We have time to sit and be a family together, to enjoy a meal around the fire pit — to slow down a little. Between work and the boys’ activities, it felt like we were always in a hurry.”

In addition to her volunteer work collecting food, Monahan and her family sponsor a scholarship in memory of her younger brother, Bill Towey, who died of colon cancer June 2019. The scholarship is called Fearless Warrior, in honor of the Warrior mural Towey painted anonymously at his alma mater, Wantagh High School.

To apply for the $500 grant, seniors must submit essays detailing an event in their lives when they had to stand up and do the right thing. Essays must be accompanied by one recommendation. The Monahan family reviews all submissions.

“As a family, we just want to give back,” Monahan said. “We just feel so grateful for everything we’ve received. Whatever we can give — time, money, whatever we can do — we want to do it.”

She sees a change in herself and in those around her since the beginning of the pandemic. “Before, we were so focused on material things,” she said. “Now I think people are beginning to see more how we need each other, and how we need some kind of spiritual power in our lives. I guess for us, that power is more traditional. God, the church, are huge beacons for our lives. But whatever people believe in, I think they need something.”