ESCANABA - While some volunteers focus their energy on a single project, others, like Maria Maniaci, spread their work across many. For her work throughout the community Maniaci has been selected as the Daily Press Volunteer of the Month.
Twenty years ago Maniaci received the calling to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church. At the time she had very little interaction with the deaconate of the Episcopal Church and wasn't entirely sure what becoming a deacon would mean.
"When I read the church's definition of what a deacon is to do and what they are to be about, I just looked at the rest of the team that was doing the calling and said, 'Oh, you mean the stuff I've been doing with my life all my life,'" said Maniaci.
Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press
Maria Maniaci, far left, is shown aboard the schooner Inland Seas Wednesday. Because of Maniaci’s volunteer work, she has been selected as the Daily Press Volunteer of the Month.
Holly Richer | Daily Press
In this file photo, Escanaba Rotary Club members Maria Maniaci and Bob Richards prepare roses that were given to local nursing home residents.
Daily Press file photo
In this file photo, Maria Maniaci shakes hands with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder at last summer’s Maritime Festival in Ludington Park. Maniaci helped plan and organize the event for several years.
Deacons are called primarily to be the outreach branch of the ministry, working to help those in need, serving the community, and striving for justice. Maniaci has answered that call.
Twenty-five years ago the Alliance Against Violence and Abuse - now known as Tri-County Safe Harbor - was just getting started. Maniaci was one of the group's founders and worked actively with police, county commissioners, and others to secure a house and funding for the shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
While the benefits of such an organization for the women who need its services are unmeasurable, Maniaci noted that at the time many in the community struggled to understand why law enforcement was so supportive of the project.
"Somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of all workplace injuries and fatalities for public safety officers, police officers, are on domestic violence calls. They aren't bank robberies, they're not major other things, they're answering domestic violence calls where somebody's got a weapon and they change their mind and come after the cops instead of the ones they've been beating on," said Maniaci, adding that removing one of the parties helps to diffuse the situation and make officers safer.
Since the creation of the Alliance Against Violence and Abuse, Maniaci has served on the organization's board a few times and has had an opportunity to watch the women's shelter grow to cover Delta, Schoolcraft, and Menominee counties.
"It has grown so beautifully and so big. Three counties now. It's fantastic," said Maniaci of the shelter.
Maniaci's work for those in need goes beyond women. In the 1980s she helped establish a food pantry with the Trades & Labor Council after Harnischfeger shut down its Escanaba crane factory.
"It was over on Stephenson, and all you had to do was show an unemployment card because there were a lot of people that got laid off from Harnischfeger that didn't qualify for any other assistance," said Maniaci.
Maniaci stayed close with the Trades & Labor Council acting as the group's secretary for 10 years and then president for 10 years. Eventually the pantry closed its doors, but the fundraising efforts that were started to support the pantry still affect the community.
"We have grown the little fundraiser that we had to something that raises well over $15,000 a year. The labor council now supports all kinds of youth activities in the county and offers several scholarships each year," said Maniaci.
A retired mill worker, Maniaci also works with the United Steelworkers on charitable efforts like the strike for hunger the group held in the parking lot of Elmer's County Market last winter. The group held picket signs and walked the parking lot drawing awareness to the issue of hunger in the community and raising $3,000 and 3,000 pounds of food for local food pantries.
"The food pantries traditionally get pretty depleted by July, and it's a good time to do something," said Maniaci explaining that the generosity people typically feel during the holidays doesn't encourage the same amount of giving during the summer months.
Maniaci also dedicates her time reading with children at Cameron Elementary in Gladstone through the Community Action Agency's R.S.V.P. Reading Buddies program.
"(It's great) when the parents send you a note saying, 'thank you for the interest you've shown in my son, he just wants you to read now, he just sits and reads,'" said Maniaci.
Maniaci recalled one reading buddy who loved football and the Green Bay Packers and had created a book about it as part of a class project. Because Maniaci was going to be at a convention for Rotary International at Lambeau Field she asked if she could take the book with her. While she was at the conference she had the book autographed by Packers President Mark Murphy and kicker Tim Masthay.
"He was such a hero in that first grade class when I brought it back to him," said Maniaci.
Through her membership - and presidency - of the Escanaba Rotary Club she has been active with the Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) student exchange program for high school students and Camp Harstad, a day camp for children with special needs owned by the Rotary Club of Escanaba and run in partnership with the Northern Lights YMCA.
Maniaci works in a variety of other rolls including collecting pop cans at the mill to support adopting families in need at Christmastime, being an active member and volunteer with the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association the Friends of the Gladstone Library, and helping those in need through her work as a deacon.