Little San Francisco charity reaches needy in 20-plus countries


La Madre de los Pobres is the little charity you never heard of.

The organization founded by Franciscan Father Alfred Boeddeker and some pals in 1982 operates on a shoestring – providing direct aid to projects in more than 20 countries, from the Czech Republic and Albania and Guatemala to the Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"Father Alfred was a man of great faith," said Frank Clark, president and one of the founders of La Madre de los Pobres (Mother of the Poor) who worked with the former pastor of St. Boniface Parish. Father Boeddeker, who died in 1994, is best known for founding St. Anthony's Dining Room.

"He would say 'Don't worry about the money. Feed the hungry and the money will come.'"

La Madre is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a dinner May 10 at Caesar's Restaurant in San Francisco, one of two fundraising dinners each year.

La Madre gives away about 95 percent of its donations in small grants that average $2,000 to $3,000 a year.

"It's a very small-scale operation and we try to work with people who help people on a small scale effectively," said board member Gregory Gollnick, a retired airline pilot.

"We've got a project in Eritrea where we gave them a cow and she had a calf and they named the cow Madre," said Gollnick.

A Dec. 16, 2010, letter from Capuchin Franciscan Father Zerayakob O. Michael enclosed photos of the cow with the little school community in Dekemhare, Eritrea.

"Thanks to your esteemed organization we are getting enough milk (for) all members of our community," wrote Father Michael.

"All of us are very, very happy. … May the child Jesus bless you all."

La Madre helps those who provide direct aid, usually but not always professed Catholic religious, said board member Paul Crudo, a retired dentist.

Mary Clark, a nurse, is involved on the ground in developing countries with La Madre-supported groups.

She returned in December from Gimbie, Ethiopia, where the midwife and nurse practitioner conducted a 10-week midwife training program and then traveled to Nairobi to review a nurse training project.

"She was helping with very basic health problems, they don't have a health system like we would think of," said Gollnick, adding at one point Clark, one of the widowed Frank Clark's nine children, was working in 117-degree heat.

"They had a nurse from Uganda … who later had to take some months off because she was shot. It's rough territory."

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One of those Mary Clark works with is Ugandan Sister Angela Limiyo who last year moved her medical clinic and nurse training school from Kuron, South Sudan, to Uganda because of the violence in Sudan.

In a note accompanying a photo of her work with Sister Angela, a Missionary Sister of Mary Mother of the Church, Mary Clark wrote:

"… we had our share of treating warriors' battle wounds in the Kuron Medical Clinic." After patching up the young warrior, Mary Clark said they sent him on to the hospital. "He lived. The Toposa warriors of South Sudan are very tough," she said.

The idea is a little money can go a long way if it is spent directly by those who need it.

La Madre provided satellite phones for a remote mission school in Sierra Leone and equipped a radio station for Dominicans in the Czech Republic.

It supports orphans from the Kosovo-Albanian war in Albania and sends money to help HIV/AIDS orphans in Tanzania. It sends money to a health clinic run by Presentation Sisters in Guatemala and to a home in Jamaica for children living with HIV/AIDS.

La Madre is paying tuition for a young woman attending teachers college in Guatemala and last year paid for another to receive nurse's training.

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La Madre sends money to a Salesian running a technical school in Lahore, Pakistan, in an area beset with religious strife, Frank Clark said.

"They're blowing each other up. They're killing the Catholics. We send money for the technical school," Clark said.

"One priest sent a note apologizing because the school snack price ran from four cents to five cents," said Gollnick of a grant recipient.

"How can you lose giving money to someone like that?"

Posted with permission by Catholic San Fransisco. Official newspaper for the diocese of San Francisco, California.