Don’t let its size fool you — the North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River may be small, but the variety of outreach and support programs it has reaches across the Island.
“Sometimes there are certain people who are going through a difficult time and I think extending a hand and caring helps restore some hope that things are going to be okay,” said Diane Burkhardt, a member of the church for 11 years who is a retired Shoreham-Wading River middle school teacher. “People are so appreciative and thankful, which makes the whole experience gratifying and fulfilling. It makes you really appreciate what you have, which is humbling.”
Burkhardt said she is fortunate enough to be the team leader for the church’s outreach program, working on volunteer efforts like the Helping Hands Fund, which includes a food pantry that assists about 50 families in the Shoreham-Wading River area on a regular basis, and its back-to-school project, which provided school supplies to 30 children in need this past September.
Volunteers also deliver food to people’s homes, drive those in need to doctor’s appointments, help out with the church’s thrift shop, and deliver meals to and spend time with residents of Maureen’s Haven, a shelter service for homeless adults on the East End.
“Food is tangible, but what comes with it is the intangible quality of hope,” Burkhardt said. “I’m one of a dozen or so active members that are retired and put in a lot of hours because we feel we were all given gifts and skills that can be put to good use helping people.”
Linda McCall, of Center Moriches, has been attending North Shore United Methodist for four years and said she most enjoys spending her time helping those at Maureen’s Haven in Riverhead, while also volunteering through Helping Hands to provide gifts to children and meals to families around Christmas.
“It’s a very small church, and for such a small church we have so many outreach programs going that I found it almost impossible not to get involved,” she said. “It’s one of the things that keep me happy to be here on the Island. I moved here from Las Vegas, so I don’t have any family here, and the church has become my family. Volunteering fills my days with joy and happiness.”
Priscilla Hartman, a Shoreham resident who has been attending services for the last 35 years, said that as the church’s team leader for its membership care program, she finds it rewarding when she can help someone.
The program helps church members get to the pharmacy when they are temporarily ill, don’t have transportation or otherwise can’t leave the house. Volunteers also cook for them or clean their houses.
“It’s a great feeling when we’re helping a homeless person or someone who is down on their luck and seeing them get back on their feet,” she said. “I’m glad that my church is very ministry-oriented. I think it’s a good way for us to act. We’re a small church, but there’s nothing too large for us to take on.”
One example is the church’s partnering with Life and Hope Haiti, an organization founded by Lucia Anglade of West Babylon, who formed the Eben Ezer School in her hometown of Milot, Haiti.
Donna Eddy, who runs a craft group and is also involved with Maureen’s Haven and the thrift shop, said it’s these relationships people make with other community members and those they help that count in life and define who they are.
“I think we are all wired to need and to learn from each other,” she said. “You can’t love, have forgiveness, experience kindness, faithfulness and unselfishness unless you’re involved in the community. People need other people.”
And one person everyone at North Shore United Methodist agreed they need, is Burkhardt.
“She has an incredible amount of energy and her enthusiasm is infectious,” Pastor Hal Low said. “Nothing ever seems to daunt her. She’s an inspiration to others, including myself.”
“She’s focused, driven and she makes you want to be the best that you can be and give all that you can, because that’s what she does,” she said. “She’s a wonderful model She gives selflessly her time, her energy. If you need something, Diane will be there. You can count on her.”
But Burkhardt doesn’t want to take any of the credit, because she said without the rest of the organization, there would be no outreach ministry.
“I’m part of a whole congregation and I couldn’t do anything alone,” she said, adding that other churchgoers also help by recycling cans and bottles to raise money for lunches for the children in Haiti for instance. Members are also currently providing dinner to children whose parents are both in the hospital while the father is ill, and have been helping transport a man in Bellport, previously of Maureen’s Haven and a home in Middle Island, to and from Sunday services since 2011.
Burkhardt said that she frequently recalls things Shoreham resident and longtime churchgoer Doris Olson used to tell her when she was heavily involved in outreach in her younger years.
“Whenever I’m dealing with someone that can maybe be hard to deal with, she always said, ‘God made that person, too,’ and that brings me right back in touch with what I’m really doing and why I’m going it,” Burkhardt said. “Every day, try to be a blessing to someone else.”