I walked into the Guardian Angel Center on Main Street in Kersey for the first time today. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but I left totally impressed by what can be accomplished when a single person cares enough to help someone in need. More than 20 years ago, Maggie Schreiber, now deceased, met a man who had no winter coat, and needed clothing for his children as well. She found a warm coat for him and canvassed friends and neighbors until she had collected clothes for his children as well. She began going to yard sales to find usable items, and she kept the collected clothing in her basement and in every available corner of her house, until her husband, RJ Schreiber, wondered if he would be able to find a space to sit down! Word spread, and people in need started showing up at her house at all hours. RoseAnne Kronenwetter happened to be standing near Maggie and heard the conversation, and her caring nature led her to pitch in to help as well, and she served as Director of Guardian Angel Center from its beginning until 2 years ago, and still volunteers to this day.
The pastor of St. Boniface Church at that time was Fr. John Kuzilla, and he suggested that the two women move the clothing to the unused Guardian Angels Church in Coal Hollow to alleviate the crowding in Maggie’s home, and to set some hours of operation. The church was built many years ago by the miners who lived in Coal Hollow, and I just loved going to Mass there until it was eventually closed. I always enjoyed hearing the church bell echo against the mountains surrounding the church. I can still remember the thick rope in the back of the church that one of the elderly men of the parish pulled several times every Sunday morning to announce the beginning of the service.
Although there was more room at the church and they could help more people, there were drawbacks. There was no running water, the outhouse was across the yard in back of the church, and there was a problem with dampness. Maggie and RoseAnne were open every day to provide clothing and other items to the people who came. From those humble beginnings was born the Guardian Angel Center that during the 2016-2017 school year distributed almost 8,000 new clothing items and over 9,000 used clothing items to over 700 children from 272 families! And all because someone cared enough to listen and act.
They moved to a new facility on Main Street in 2005, and many of the volunteers from the early days still help out because they enjoy the work and the sisterhood that has developed among the workers. Most of the volunteers are friends and neighbors I’ve known for years, and many are retired teachers who have found a new way to care about and help children. Every effort is made to ensure that parents and children in need are treated with respect and that their visits to the Center are positive experiences.
I was impressed with the organizational skills the workers employ to sort, size, and display both donated and new merchandise. Although it is clear that they could use a building twice the size that they have, being well organized helps them get the maximum use of every square foot of space. All intake and check out forms are handwritten at first, then entered into the computer system, enabling the Center to have detailed, accurate records of all transactions. There is even a laundry area for freshening up donated items, and a seamstress who volunteers to repair or alter clothing as needed. Seasonal items are packed and stored when not in use. All in all, what I saw appeared to be a well-organized group of busy, happy, mostly older volunteers who worked so well together as to make it look effortless. New volunteers, both women and men, are always needed and very welcome!
Guardian Angel Center serves all families with children who already qualify for programs such as Food Stamps, WIC, Food Bank, etc., with eligibility being determined with documentation at the initial visit of each school year. Eligible children are provided a Back-to-School Pack that includes new jeans, tops, socks and shoes that the children choose themselves. Certain volunteers are “smart shoppers” that scout out the best bargains in new clothing year round in preparation for this popular distribution. For infants and toddlers who qualify, the Center provides new cribs, mattresses, car seats, diapers and other necessities. Diaper packs also include hand crocheted blankets, sweaters or booties that a group of women from Hanover, PA send as donations.
Another thing I didn’t know about Guardian Angel Center is that they serve all qualified families with children, no matter where they reside. I think some people are under the impression that it’s only available to local or Elk County residents. During the 2016-17 school year, the Center served families from Elk, Jefferson, McKean, Clearfield, Cameron, Potter, Forest, and Clarion counties, and that included 32 different zip codes!
It’s important to note that the success of the Center depends entirely on a dedicated group of 30 or so volunteers, as there are no paid positions. All donations go directly to serve qualified families. Funding comes from St. Marys United Way, Wilcox-Johnsonburg Community Fund, Ridgway Charitable Foundation, AJ Palumbo Foundation, Emporium Foundation, Women Who Care, the Mee Foundation, and various clubs. Walmart makes significant donations of new clothing throughout the year and there are quantities of gently used clothing that come from caring donors. Retired school administrators and Co-Presidents Cly Hornung and Marion Johnson have been instrumental in writing grants to procure additional funding. Guardian Angel Center is the only operation of this scope and kind in Pennsylvania.
Marion emphasized that they really want to get the word out to anyone in need, regardless of where they live, that there is help available. The Guardian Angel Center is located at 364 Main Street in Kersey, across from St. Boniface Catholic School. They are open the first and third Tuesday of the month from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. in September, October, November, December, March, April and May. They are open the last Tuesday in July and every Tuesday in August until school opens, and by appointment for emergencies. The Center can be reached at (814) 885-6192.
I came away today amazed that this huge operation started because two ordinary women cared enough to make such an extraordinary difference in the lives of others.