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Towne Salute: Odette Boyce of Saint Martin’s Ministries

May 04, 2016 04:08PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Becca Newell

Odette Boyce doesn’t see her role at Saint Martin’s Ministries in Ridgely as just a job. For her, working to fight the cycle of poverty is a privilege.

“I’d work for free if I could,” she says, laughing.

As Barn Manager, Boyce is responsible for the organization’s food pantry and thrift store, in addition to several important programs that provide additional community services, like rental assistance and eviction prevention. Last month marked Boyce’s 10th anniversary with the Barn.

The food pantry, now in its 35th year, primarily serves Caroline County residents, although Boyce is keen to point out that no one in need is ever turned away. On average, the Barn sees about 335 families a month, with a number of new families arriving at each pickup.

“They’re just everyday people that have fallen on hard times,” she says.

A majority of the Barn’s clients are also senior citizens. For the most part, these elderly clients live on a limited income, receiving $16-worth of food stamps each month. That amount, Boyce explains, simply isn’t enough, so the organization helps to supplement those costs.

“We’re truly making a difference in their lives,” she says.

It’s that sentiment that’s kept Boyce passionate about her responsibilities and encouraged her to expand and strengthen the organization’s role in the community. One aspect she’d like to improve is people’s awareness of the Barn, which is often limited due to its location on the outskirts of a rural community. But she’s determined to change that.

“I hate to hear people say we’re the best kept secret,” she says. “I want everyone to know about us.”

Another downside to the rural locale: less federal funding.

“[The government] decided that the rural areas were going to get less funding than the cities,” she says. “Even though we’re seeing an increase of people, especially higher-income people—those that make about $3,000 to $4,000 a month.”

Fortunately, Boyce has coordinated several new initiatives with local businesses to ensure there’s enough food for everyone. One example, she says, is the venison program that brings in meat from hunters; another is a weekly delivery of baked goods from Panera Bread in Easton.

And it’s not just food (and clothing via the thrift shop) that Boyce allocates to each client. Perhaps most important is the resources she passes along to help them escape poverty. It’s Saint Martin’s Ministries’ mission, she explains, to be a stepping stone—not a solution—to a better future.

“You don’t have to be stuck where you are,” she says. “We try to give our clients words of encouragement and educational materials on how to better themselves.”

Having broken from the poverty cycle herself, it’s clear Boyce doesn’t take her role here lightly and, if the last decade is any indication, she’s determined to help others follow suit.

“We’ll make you feel welcome,” she says, with an endearing smile. “We’re here to help you.”

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