Mary Joesten, a long-time community activist and advocate for those living on the margins of society, was named Nassau County Senior Citizen Woman of the Year last week by County Executive Laura Curran. The award was in recognition of the years of service Joesten has given to Elmont and its surrounding communities.
Joesten has been serving the homeless, hungry, veterans and abused women — to name just a few of her constituencies — since founding the first iteration of the Faith Mission Outreach Center with her late husband Ed in Jamaica, Queens, in 1969.
“I was inspired by the church’s Acts of Corporal Mercy,” Joesten, a lifelong devout Roman Catholic, said in addressing the assembled crowd at the Uniondale Marriott. The Acts of Mercy include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and incarcerated.
Nowadays, Joesten can be found serving hot meals and bagging food at the Pope Francis Hospitality Center, located at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Elmont. There, she serves breakfast and lunch to about 40 people each Saturday, as well as running a food pantry. “Each person is supposed to get 10 items” from the pantry, she said. “That’s 1,600 items a month.” The pantry receives food from Island Harvest, which supplies local pantries with free and low-cost food. In addition, Joesten receives donations from Trader Joe’s, as well as local restaurants and supermarkets, on an ad hoc basis. “It’s always hard to keep the shelves stocked, but all we can do is keep moving forward,” she said.
“You don’t have to be poor to join us,” Joesten added. People on fixed incomes, caregivers who are paying for friends and relatives, the elderly or anyone who’s just lonely — all are welcome,” she said. “Sometimes, you just need a feeling of community, of family.”
Joesten is especially concerned about the plight of Nassau County’s 45,168 veterans, many of whom are homeless. “Nassau County has the second-largest veteran population of any county in New York,” she said in thanking Curran for the award, adding that female veterans were more likely to be homeless than men, as well as far more likely to commit suicide.
Joesten pointed to the multiple deployments many soldiers have experienced. Post-traumatic stress is common. “They were healthy when they left, but they aren’t coming back that way,” she said.
Besides her work at the Pope Francis center, Joesten is currently involved in helping establish a home for single mothers in the former convent at St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church in Franklin Square. It has been an uphill struggle. Complaints have ranged from the lack of green play space for children to the number of prospective occupants at the facility, and local residents have attempted to block the facility from opening.
“[Neighbors] say they don’t have the right permits,” Joesten said. “But the court ruled that they didn’t need any others,” because the permits already obtained by the facility’s previous occupants were still valid. Joesten said she was saddened by the level of animosity voiced by neighbors. “They aren’t criminals,” she said. “They’re just women with children. They need help.”
For more information on the Pope Francis Hospitality Center, call (516) 992-5063, or visit at 1510 Depaul Street 11003, in Elmont. The center is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. The center can also be found on Facebook or at www.popefrancishospitalitycenter.com.