Person of the Week: Mary Jo Bukowski
APEX (WTVD) -- Every Saturday hundreds of people gather near Moore Square in downtown Raleigh for a free meal.
The Brown Bag Ministry, a group of volunteers, who prepare and distribute donated food, feed the group.
It started four years ago with Mary Jo Bukowski's determination to feed the poor.
For Bukowski, a typical Saturday morning at St. Andrew The Apostle Catholic Church in Apex consists of volunteers working feverishly to get all of the work done.
Their mission is to prepare hundreds of meals for the Triangle's poor -- people, who without the hard work of volunteers might go hungry.
"I'm going to tell you a little story and try not to bore you too much," Bukowski said.
The story tells how the Brown Bag Ministry was born, and it began as a silent retreat.
"The retreat started and the priest said to us the silent part of the retreat will now begin, and I was ready to just walk out," she explained. "I didn't think I could to it. Three days of not talking was really difficult for me."
It was during that time that Bukowski said God spoke to her. "And he said, 'Feed my poor,'" she recalled. "And I laughed and I laughed for many weeks after that."
She never forgot those three words.
What started with a few brown bag lunches exploded into a full blown operation, which she showed Eyewitness News.
"We're going to be making some roasted potatoes to be served down at the park," Bukowski said. "We've got them peeling. These potatoes were donated a couple of weeks ago by the Knights of Columbus. So we've got them making potatoes, and then if we come over here, this is Josephine she's one of my main cooks. We're making some ham and pineapple corn beef and cabbage."
On the first and third Saturdays of every month, the volunteers serve a hot meal along with a bag lunch to the homeless near Moore Square.
Almost everything the organization uses is donated -- food, hygiene items that are handed out and the most precious thing of all -- time.
"Trust me." Bukowski said. "There have been Saturdays when I did not want to get up. There have been Saturdays when I have been tested beyond my levels. And there have been Saturdays when I say I just can't do this anymore, but God always being the joy back into my life."
It's joy that others find contagious.
"No matter what, unless I'm deathly ill, I come because I love the fellowship and I live what we do here," she said.
"People come to her because they have things to offer, and it's just blossomed so it's really her personality that's really kept us going," one volunteer said.
"Just knowing that there's people out here like this who can provide clothing, blankets, food and personal items that you need where you don't have money to go and pay," Bukowski said. "It's very helpful, very helpful."
Even on rainy days, a grateful crowd waits for food. The spirits are not dampened. And for Bukowski, it makes her spirit stronger.
"I just thank God that I'm not in their shoes, and I'm trying to do whatever I can to make their lives a little bit better," she said.
Ultimately Bukowski wants to open a shelter. Her goal is to raise $1 million to make that happen.
local/state, tisha powell
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