HJ/EDMay 8, 2006

Mary's Wish is simple acts of kindness

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

The daughter of Polish immigrants, Mary Peterson was a scared little girl when she ran away from an orphanage in northeast Minneapolis in the 1920s.

It was the beginning of a journey that would last beyond her lifetime, connecting her to the lives of people in need throughout Carver and McLeod counties.

Although Peterson left this world almost two years age, the spirit of her generosity to the poor and disabled lives on through Mary’s Wish.

Mary’s Wish is a non-profit organization serving McLeod and Carver counties, that was started by her son, Greg Peterson of Waconia and his wife Marilyn. Peterson also manages the Kenzoil Station near New Germany.

“I wanted to do something in memory of mom,” Peterson said. “She was such a phenomenally strong person.”

Mary took care of Peterson and his four sisters by herself, after having a fallout with Peterson’s father – not an easy thing for a single mother to do in the 1950s.

“She never let on how poor we were,” Peterson said.

Years later, whenever Peterson would visit his mother, she would always ask if he was having any trouble with anyone.

The words she repeated to him thousands of times throughout her life still echo in his head today, “Be kind to them, sonny boy.”

Mary’s Wish is Peterson’s chance to do just that, through what he calls “simple acts of kindness.”

Before founding the organization, Peterson had spent 23 years working as a social worker, crisis worker, and clinical chaplain. His drive to help people is being served through Mary’s Wish.

“It’s the act of being thought of, and considered by someone else,” Marilyn said, on what people appreciate about Mary’s Wish.

Mary’s Wish officially started Oct. 1. The organization offers flowers for hope, rides for those in need of health care, gift cards for fuel, free furniture, and financial support, transportation, and friendship to members of the Community Support Program of Carver County or McLeod County Social Services.

The need exists

Peterson estimates there are at least 7,000 low-income people living in McLeod and Carver counties, and the situation is worse than many can imagine.

“We don’t know what poor is,” Peterson said. “Poor is checking for money in the pop machine.”

Peterson remembers delivering a mattress to a woman’s home one day. He was prepared to haul the old one away, but when he looked in her room, there wasn’t an old one.

She had been sleeping on the floor for months.

Lives like this woman’s have been changed through one of the projects of Mary’s Wish, the Furniture Depot.

The Furniture Depot is located in the Waconia American Legion.

“We cleaned it out and made it look like a little furniture store,” Peterson said.

People who are in need of furniture can come to the store by appointment, or Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

They can pick up whatever furniture they need, at no cost. They can either arrange for transportation, or Mary’s Wish can deliver it.

The Petersons spent one weekend delivering furniture to two households that had none.

“The family, literally, had nothing but silverware,” Peterson said.

The Petersons estimate they have moved hundreds of pieces of furniture in the last few months.

Mary’s Wish not only aims to move people’s furniture, but their hearts.

One of Marilyn’s favorite projects is Flowers for Hope. Mackenthun’s in Waconia donates one flower or potted plant each week that Marilyn then delivers to someone in need.

People can nominate others to receive Flowers for Hope, to brighten their day.

Through helping people, Peterson has also uncovered a growing trend. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren, for a variety of reasons.

“The parents are sometimes troubled, or immature, or there’s chemical abuse involved,” Peterson said

Mary’s Wish helped one grandmother buy clothes and supplies for her grandchildren, and Peterson had talked to her over the phone.

When she came into the Kenzoil store Peterson manages near New Germany, the sound of his voice stopped her in her tracks.

“You’re that. . . that. . . Mary’s thing!” she said.

Peterson smiled and said, “Yes, I am.”

The woman was so shook up she was almost crying.

Local dollars helping local people

The fact that Peterson ran into that woman at his store is one of the reasons he thinks it is important for people to donate.

“We’re local – any donations will be used locally,” Peterson said.

People can even donate items or money to be given specifically for certain people.

“If you have a neighbor, or know of someone who is down and out, and want to do something for them, but not embarrass them, Mary’s Wish can take care of that,” Peterson said.

People have used Mary’s Wish as a go-between to anonymously donate money to people they knew needed it.

Mary’s Wish relies on volunteers and donations from people who care for the poor and disabled, just as Mary did.

“It has been the thrill of my life,” Peterson said.

How to help

Mary’s Wish is a non-profit organization that serves those living below the poverty level in Carver and McLeod counties.

To make a donation or volunteer, call (612) 751-2207, e-mail maryswish@earthlink.net or visit www.maryswish.org

Mary’s Wish is in special need of funds for a bigger trailer, and volunteers to help haul furniture.

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