Pulse of the Parish: At the Heart of St. Matthias Is a Mother-Daughter Team Helping Feed Their Community

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Currents News Staff

St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood, Queens was completed in 1926 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Much of the Italian Renaissance revival-style adornments didn’t come from Italy – but from Germany. Currents News Anchor Christine Persichette met with the pastor there, Auxiliary Bishop Neil Tiedemann. He talked about the parish’s unique story.

“St. Matthias parish is a very interesting parish,” said Auxiliary Bishop Tiedemann. “It has a long history. Originally most of the members were of German descent, Mass was celebrated in German. At the present time, we have a large Polish-speaking population. We also have a large Spanish-speaking population who come from at least 14 different countries in Latin America. And then we have a sizable amount of people who’ve been parishioners their whole lives.”

One after another. They come to the food pantry at St. Matthias in Ridgewood. And it’s all because of the mother daughter team: Maretza Chamorro and Lilian Guallpa.

The duo runs the food pantry and makes sure anyone in need is helped. It’s an act of kindness that Maretza says is much bigger than herself.

“She does it because she knows the needs of the people and as God has showed us in His works, you know helping the ones in need is really a great expression of love,” said Lilian of her mother.

Maretza and Lilian know what it’s like to be in need. Maretza lost her job during the pandemic.

“Bills keep on coming… a lot of tuition bills… all of those things and without any sort of income,” said Lilian. “It’s very overwhelming and it’s very worrying for us.”

They say organizing this pantry distracts them from their own problems and every interaction with a community member makes them feel even more grateful to God.

“She feels that she shares part that feeling of necessity,” Lilian said of her mother. “She understands what those people are going through. She feels very grateful that she can witness that … how the Catholic Church is always there to help out in this time of great crisis and need.”

St. Matthias has been helping the community for years way before the pandemic struck.

“There’s a lot of canned goods,” said Bishop Tiedemann. “There’s a lot, you see the chicken’s down there.”

The bishop says the food pantry has a working kitchen and used to serve lunch to the homeless. But COVID forced them to shut down the operation and cook up a new plan. 

“So we actually set up a team where we tried to figure out what is it that people really need,” said Bishop Tiedemann.

Everything from canned goods and cereal to fresh vegetables and meat.

“And then we try to do it so that as you see that everything is all laid out and prepared so that people can come, there’s really no lines,” the bishop said.

Rosa, a longtime parishioner, was unemployed during the height of COVID and struggled to support her family.

“She thinks it’s a great idea,” Lilian said of Rosa. “It’s very helpful for her because during the pandemic a lot of people have a lot of necessities so for her to have her own appointment, her own time frame it’s just perfect for her.”

This time of crisis is teaching an important life lesson to Lilian, who attends St. John’s University, something she can’t learn in a classroom.  

“But something that my mom has also taught me is that to not wait into the future… to also… whatever I have now, I should give it out and share it with the others right now,” said Lilian.

Lily was born in Ridgewood and attended St. Matthias’ parish school. Even though she’ll be graduating from St. John’s University next year, she still plans on being right by her mom’s side to continue their work.

Stay tuned for more Pulse of the Parish stories in the future.