Social ministry director tirelessly helps needy

Social ministry director tirelessly helps needy

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Vicki Rybak, far right, poses with the Rev. Patrick Riegger and Rotarians Sharon Brennan and Jackie Brown as Infant Jesus R.C. Church accepts a Rotary donation to its food pantry. File photo

By Rachel Siford

Vicki Rybak has been serving the Long Island community for more than a decade, known by her friends and coworkers as one of the busiest and most resourceful people they know.

As the director of social ministry and outreach for Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, Rybak has gone above and beyond her job description. For that reason, she has been named a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

“She is a last resort for a lot of people,” said Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue Public Library and a Port Jefferson Rotary Club member.

The Rotary Club works closely with Rybak and the church. One of their biggest collaborations is on The Open Cupboard at the church, a food pantry for needy Long Islanders that the Rotary donates to. According to Engelhardt, one in eight on Long Island currently need help from food banks.

“Year-round she is involved in projects like this,” Engelhardt said about Rybak. “She tries to be everything that anyone needs, which can be exhausting. She is helping families from falling through the cracks and they are really fortunate to have someone who has the time and energy to be that person.”

Jim Fenton is one of the oldest volunteers at Infant Jesus and has worked with Rybak closely.

“Vicki is extremely resourceful when someone comes to her with a problem,” Fenton said. “She has all these phone numbers at her fingertips, and is very compassionate too.”

Fenton added that Rybak devotes time to applying for grants to keep the food pantries stocked and keep the equipment working — “all of her own initiative.”

“She goes above and beyond what is in her job description,” Fenton added. “There is nothing she won’t do.”

Sharon Brennan, another Rotary Club member, shared an anecdote of working with Rybak. Once, a couple went to her office crying because a fire had destroyed everything they owned.

Rotarian Jackie Brown, Vicki Rybak, St. Charles Hospital’s Marilyn Fabbricante, Rotarian Debbie Englehardt and backpack program sponsor Katharine Coen carry backpacks for donation. File photo
Rotarian Jackie Brown, Vicki Rybak, St. Charles Hospital’s Marilyn Fabbricante, Rotarian Debbie Englehardt and backpack program sponsor Katharine Coen carry backpacks for donation. File photo

“Vicki started making calls immediately, getting them stuff over the phone, getting Christmas presents for their children,” Brennan said. “She just goes into high gear and makes stuff happen.”

Rybak is involved in many different programs throughout the year, including the Adopt-A-Family program for the holiday season, through which volunteers purchase Christmas presents such as toys and clothes for families who do not have enough money to spend on those items themselves. That project gets a lot of residents and community groups involved, including the Interact Club at Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, right down the road from the church.

The Person of the Year also works on a back-to-school project, filling up 150 backpacks with school supplies — such as composition notebooks and pencils — for children at the start of the each new school year, with the help of community donations.

“Vicki somewhere, somehow finds a way to help them, no matter what they need,” Laszlo Girhiny, a church member, said about Rybak’s dedication to local people in need. “Hundreds of people have walked through her doors.”

If Rybak cannot help people herself, she connects them with other social service agencies so the job can get done.

“She has the right attitude and always treats the people she helps with dignity,” Brennan said. “She says everyone has been there one time in their life.”

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