Some parades are lead by a fancy sports car or flashy float, but Ronkonkoma will march behind a woman of the people.
Anne Kelly, the outreach director at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ronkonkoma, will lead the town on foot as grand marshal for the town’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade off at 2 p.m. on March 11.
Kelly, 70, sat in the cozy main room of the outreach house on a recent rainy afternoon and went through a box of donated children’s clothes. As she folded a shirt with Spider-Man on the front, she spoke with a quiet ferocity about her work during her 16 years of volunteering with the church.
The outreach program assists locals in need by providing food, clothing and financial assistance, particularly for single mothers, Kelly said.
“I’ll speak up for them, believe me,” she said, “because they work hard but they can’t make ends meet.”
Kelly described the challenges her outreach program faces, one being the ongoing struggle to keep donations flowing. She also detailed the difficulties those she helps have with navigating the complicated, bureaucratic government procedures.
Kelly helps just about everyone who asks, but seems to dispense a little tough love with every dollar. She says she never “becomes attached,” and “only pays part of their bills, because once you teach them to fish, they survive.”
Jim McKenna, who has known Kelly for decades and works as her assistant, called her “one of the most refreshing people in the church.”
McKenna said Kelly is always “right on the money, and always tells people the way it is.”
Another volunteer, Mary Iorio, spoke affectionately of Kelly as she described her kindness, and said that Kelly is “always there if someone needs help or is sick.”
Kelly’s history of helping the injured and unwell predates her tenure as outreach director. She worked as a nurse at a nearby facility for 14 years. With nine siblings, a husband of 47 years and six children, it’s easy to understand Kelly’s nurturing spirit and generosity.
Born in Ireland, Kelly spent her early life attending school in France and England before she arrived in the United States in 1962. She reminisced about a simple childhood that had just what was needed — “a home, love of family and clean beds.”
The grandmother of 12 recalled her teacher in philanthropy — her father, a butcher by trade, who would give meat to neighbors who couldn’t afford any.
“I love to give, and my biggest pleasure is seeing a family succeed,” said Kelly.
Pictured above: Anne Kelly, the outreach director at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ronkonkoma, will lead the town's St. Patrick's Day Parade as grand marshal. (March 1, 2012)
Upload your St. Patrick's Day photos | View reader St. Patrick's Day photos Irish pubs Whether you're out to celebrate St. Patrick's Day or have a proper pint, you'll find ...