By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY September 10, 2004 Marie Biedinger isnt one of those nice old ladies who sits around knitting tea cozies.
At 73, Biedinger is a woman of action.
She drives a Sullivan County transportation bus around Monticello.
She volunteers with the Caregiver Support services at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Liberty.
And shes been working for more than a year to bring Robert Wood Johnson Foundation monies to Sullivan County to begin a local chapter of Faith in Action.
A former chaplain at Arden Hill Hospital and a deacon at St. Pauls Lutheran Church in Liberty, Biedinger knows the value of faith in healing.
And as a widow for the past 13 years, she knows what its like to be a little lonely.
Sure, she has family right next door her son, daughter-in-law, 14-year-old grandson. Shes got two dogs, her children Crystal and Muffin, who curl up on her lap while she watches television at night.
But theres no one to argue with, she says with a sad laugh, no one to watch her cleaning the house like a whirling dervish and make jokes about the windstorm thats swept through.
Biedinger says shes an independent cuss, so she makes do with what she has.
And what she has is a lot of love to share something she said every resident from Liberty to Ellenville has inside of them.
Shes hoping to get residents in that corridor to sign on to her new Faith in Action group, which she is calling Caring Neighbors.
She wants them to volunteer to give a little time, a little attention to folks who are homebound the elderly, the disabled and the lonely.
Theyre a growing group.
People are living longer, Biedinger explained. Families are more spread out, sometimes non-existent, and friends have passed on.
More often people are reaching their 90s, burying their friends, sometimes even their children, and finding that they are all alone.
Living in rural Sullivan County compounds the problem, Biedinger said. Theres little public transportation available, and your neighbors are farther away.
Being home is very lonely, she explained. And sometimes people fall through the cracks they dont have enough money, or they have too much money.
Biedinger recognizes a give and take in society, and shes looking for people to volunteer to give and to receive a friendship from the people they meet.
The elderly have an awful lot to give, she explained. I find theres a wealth of experience both sides can get from this.
Biedinger wants someone to offer to make a phone call every few days, visit once a week.
This is not something where youre going to clean their house; there are other agencies for that, she said, just take on a neighborly concern.
Although its called Faith in Action, Biedinger said its a non-denominational program sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension shes open to working with people of all faiths, something shes experienced over and over as a chaplain.
Dealing with different people of different faiths, you realize theres only one God, she said. In this, youre creating a friendship granted youre going to run into some cranky people, but its caring and sharing, love and friendship.
Its all the things God really wants out of us.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has given a $35,000 start-up grant, which is being overseen by the extension office, with Biedinger as program director.
Her aim is to make the program grow, matching volunteers with people in their area who could use some help.
Eventually they will have to start local fundraising the foundation requires local funds match the grant within 18 months.
Biedinger isnt worried. She said the project will happen on its merits, and she realizes starting small is the key.
I know Im not going to change the world, but if I can help a couple of people . . . she said, trailing off. So many of us have something good inside of us share the wealth.
Its a lonely place alone, she added. Theres so much loneliness, and its so unnecessary.
What else have we got? Biedinger continued. If we cant help one another, its a sad, sad world.
To get involved, call Biedinger at the extension office in Liberty at 292-6180.