Written by John White
Melanie Downey Einsfeld is the Chairperson for Social Ministry at Calvary Lutheran Church in Hauppauge. During her 40 year tenure in this role, she has impacted the lives of many individuals in the Hauppauge community and the surrounding towns. In addition, Melanie has brought dozens of others into the world of community outreach through her leadership and guidance. We spoke to Melanie about her role as Chairperson, the activities she has supported, and how she sees the future.
Q: How did you decide to get involved in social ministry?
MDE: Many years ago I wanted to pursue an education in social work, but ended up getting my degree in behavioral science from NY Tech. That background gave me insight and understanding on how to work with individuals with needs. Around the same time our Pastor asked me to get involved with our church’s social ministry committee. I think he saw something in me that I wasn’t fully aware of. I was reluctant at first, but decided to give it a go. And I’ve never looked back.
Q: What were some of the first things you needed to accomplish?
MDE: We really needed to recruit volunteers, change several of the processes that were in place, and initiate new programs for outreach to the community. For example, we were helping homebound people in our congregation who needed deliveries of food and medicine, but didn’t always have volunteers available. That took some work to get people in place. Finding neighbors who could help neighbors with food pantry delivery really helped the process flow. Some of our early work included working with guide dogs for veterans and helping other local churches who needed support with things like school supplies for their pre-K program.
Q: I noticed that the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry is a regular beneficiary of your outreach. How did you get involved there?
MDE: Someone in our congregation knew someone there, so it was a nice fit. They were able to come and pick up our food donations which other food banks weren’t able to always do. That solved an operational problem for us.
Q: What has been a highly memorable experience for you? What’s been the most challenging?
MDE: Early on I was able to accompany our pastor on a home visit to a member. It was a very emotional experience, but also very educational. Seeing the needs that this person had really helped me to better understand how to reach out to others. One of the more difficult situations I’ve had to deal with is in working with a diverse volunteer committee. It’s not uncommon to have multiple viewpoints and opinions being offered. New ideas can contribute a lot of creativity to the team, but sometimes there is disagreement and my role is to keep people focused on what our goal is: ultimately helping those in need.
Q: Is there a feeling that people are “paying it forward”?
MDE: Oh definitely! When our church members see what we are doing they want to get involved, contribute time, and make donations. We’ve had several people over the years provide great financial support to our committee. I think that comes from telling people what you’re doing and not working in secret. Often times people don’t know what the true needs are in a community like Hauppauge.
Q: How do you proactively encourage that awareness that can lead to volunteerism?
MDE: Not unlike the personal request I got many years ago from our pastor, I think you can accomplish a lot by extending a personal invitation to others. Some may be hesitant at first, just like I was, but it’s the best first step to take in getting others to help with our efforts.
Q: Are you ready to pass the baton?
MDE: Not yet. I still love what I’m doing and I can see the great results of what we do. I’ll keep going for as long as I can and continue to reach others through those personal invitations. It makes a difference!
Our interviewer, John White, is a long time Hauppauge resident who recently retired from a rewarding career as a pharmacist, clinician, and pharmaceutical industry consultant. In addition to his work with the Hauppauge Public Library, John volunteers his time with St. Thomas More’s youth ministry and the Boy Scouts of America. In his spare time, John is an avid reader, an active runner, and loves to travel.
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