“I think we are all responsible for each other,” Sister Mary Maloney said recently, “and that we are all our brothers and sisters.” This deeply felt belief has helped Sister Mary lead Park Slope Christian Help — better known as CHIPS — for a quarter-century, and is one reason why she has received this year’s George Lovgren Award for Professional Service from the Park Slope Civic Council.
CHIPS was founded in 1972 by a group of parishioners from St. Francis Xavier Church to help the poor, homeless, hungry, and those facing temporary crises. After returning from volunteer work in Africa in the late 1980s, Sister Mary was asked serve for a year as the temporary replacement for the sister who had been running CHIPS; she has been running this nonprofit organization ever since.
“The services here are really appreciated by the community,” Sister Mary said, “and it’s the people in the community who do the work — through the Park Slope Food Coop, individuals, schools, and churches and synagogues. It’s not only financial donations that help us but donations of food and clothing, too. Our home really is Park Slope.”
Under her guidance, the breadth of services that CHIPS provides and the number of people that it assists have grown significantly, with such resources as a soup kitchen and a shelter for teenage mothers. CHIPS now owns and occupies a four-story building on Fourth Avenue near Sackett Street. With the help of dedicated volunteers, CHIPS prepares and serves more than 200 nutritious meals daily, six days a week. It also distributes more than 100 bags of groceries each Friday, and operates a shelter for nine young homeless mothers and their infants and toddlers.
Sister Mary had an impressive career before her arrival at CHIPS. After becoming a registered nurse, she worked at St. Peter’s Hospital in Brooklyn, followed by a decade at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark as director of nursing and of its School of Nursing. Wanting to provide more direct service to the poor, she volunteered in clinics in Brazil for seven years. When she returned to the United States, she became executive director of the Franciscan Federation in Chicago. She then volunteered to go to Africa for seven years, ministering to the poor in small villages where she established clinics and maternal-child programs. Somehow, Sister Mary found sufficient time to earn a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees.
After decades of helping the community here in Park Slope, Sister Mary had been planning to retire — until Sept. 23, 2011. A little after noon that Friday, a fire started in the auto-supply store next door. It soon turned into an inferno that gutted the building. The people having dinner at CHIPS, the residents of its shelter, its volunteers, and Sister Mary quickly evacuated. The heat and smoke from the fire together with the water used to fight the conflagration destroyed just about everything within the CHIPS building.
Nonetheless, CHIPS was able to distribute brown bags of snacks to the needy the following Monday. On Tuesday, when an emergency cleanup crew started tossing just about everything from the building, sandwiches were added to the lunches. Because of Sister Mary’s tireless leadership, the efforts of the organization’s volunteers, and the generosity of many individuals and institutions, CHIPS has been fully renovated.
The organization will continue to provide invaluable assistance to the needy in Park Slope and neighboring communities in the decades ahead. Sister Mary will remain as president of the CHIPS Board of Directors, and sees herself “working on grants and fundraising, because we don’t have someone who does that regularly.”
To volunteer or donate to CHIPS, head to CHIPSonline.org.
The Lovgren Awards — one for local volunteers, the other for professional services — have been given to community leaders and organizations for their commitment to Park Slope every year since 1979. For more on the award, presented at the Civic Council’s General Meeting in June, click here.
— John Casson is a Civic Council trustee; additional reporting by Civic News editor David Herman.
from the Summer 2012 Civic News