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In the spirit of the season
Locals give back in the borough

For most of us, the holiday season is a time to relax from the daily grind. For Sister Hannah Marie Cox, it is the busiest time of year.
‘Sister Hannah,’ as she is called by all who know her, is the Pastoral Associate at St. Helen’s R.C. Church in Howard Beach. In the education field for 45 years and formerly the principal of St. Helen’s School, Sister Hannah is the founder and leading member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Helen’s.
The society includes roughly 15 adults, all of whom are St. Helen’s parishioners, and eight teenagers, each of whom graduated from St. Helen’s School. This Thanksgiving, as it has each year, the St. Vincent crew organized a local food drive to feed the less fortunate throughout impoverished areas of Queens, as well as in Howard Beach. In addition to sending food to a shelter, St. Vincent members visited homes in Jamaica, Ozone Park and parts of Brooklyn to provide needy residents with food.
But the work doesn’t end there.
On Thanksgiving morning, while most are with family, preparing countless bountiful dishes, Sister Hannah will be making rounds in Howard Beach, delivering hot meals to over 20 homebound, elderly residents.
She also spearheaded a drive to raise an additional $3,000 for the needy this holiday season.
It may sound tiring, but for Sister Hannah, it never gets old.
“I’ve been at it for a very long time,” she said, “so it’s almost down to a science…I have very good helpers. I could never do it alone.”
But, while Sister Hannah gives all the credit to the people she works with, her “helpers” say she is the reason they are so involved.
“She’s legendary in this parish,” said Linda Mastrangelo, an assistant to Sister Hannah who helped organize the Thanksgiving drive. “If people hear she’s involved in something, they’ll know it’s for a good cause. That’s one way we motivate people - by telling them Sister Hannah is involved.”
“She is the most Christ-like person I know on earth,” said Monica Ottomanelli, Case Manager at the Howard Beach Senior Center, where Sister Hannah sits on the Board of Directors. “I’ve never seen anyone accomplish as much in one day as she can. I wish I had half the energy, stamina, commitment, and dedication that she has. She’s all things to all people.”
When the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Thanksgiving work ends this year, members will not get a moment’s rest before going back to work on next month’s Christmas drive. The group gathered at the St. Helen’s Rectory on Monday, November 19 to discuss planning.
“We’re all fortunate to be able to feed our families,” said St. Vincent member Jeanne Palmenteri. “We’re blessed to have Thanksgiving. We’re trying to give it to people who may not have it.”
Among the many St. Vincent members working with Sister Hannah, however, one absence stands out: The society’s president, John De Riso, who is in the hospital.
“John is seriously amazing,” said Meaghan Mapes, 18, a freshman at St. John’s University who received a scholarship in part for her work under Sister Hannah. “He cares so much about everyone he works with. He feels the poor often go unrecognized, so he works to put them on the agenda.”
De Riso suffered a stroke about 15 years ago and is now limited to a wheelchair. Though he has taken a turn for the worse lately, St. Vincent members say he has been as active as ever the last few years.
“John is my idol,” said St. Vincent member Joe Scorcia, who, along with everyone else gets joy from giving back.
“I had the privilege this year of delivering food directly to the needy, and what a thrill,” said Palmenteri. “People are so grateful. Strangers hugging and kissing you - what an amazing feeling.”

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