Earlier this year, the Greater New Jersey Conference recognized Lori Pantaleo’s work with Maker’s Place by bestowing upon her their Lay Ministry Recognition Award. Maker’s Place distributes diapers to over 500 struggling families at five locations in the Trenton area. While she marks two years volunteering with Maker’s Place this summer, Lori’s involvement in ministry spans decades.
Lori spent her junior year at Skidmore College studying abroad in Spain. After graduating from college with a double major in Spanish and music, Lori spent the next 16 years in Madrid teaching ESL, marrying, and raising two children. A life-long Methodist, Lori began attending the Church Without Walls, a Methodist congregation started by a pastor from Teaneck NJ. “We were a small group of really dedicated people who worked with the disadvantaged,” she recalled. While volunteering at a clothes closet run by two churches, Lori gained an early lesson in a core value of volunteering: shattering stereotypes about the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised. “In the early nineties, there was an influx of Liberian refugees into Spain. I recall one man who came to shop; he was articulate and poised from a middle class family in Liberia. I thought what it must have taken for him to come to the church to pick through used clothing,” she remembered. “We tend to stereotype the poor and homeless as uneducated and unmotivated. That they are somehow solely responsible for their situation. He challenged that perception,” she added.
When Lori was ready to return to the States, she called her sister Tari, who lives in Plainsboro. Tari found the perfect house for Lori and the kids and Lori found the perfect church – PUMC – and the perfect job: teaching at The Chapin School, first as a long-term sub and then as a full-time teacher. For the next 20 years until her retirement in 2016, Lori immersed her K-8 students in all things Spanish.
One of the programs Lori appreciated at Chapin was its student community service program for the 8th graders. From the on-campus Runathon fundraiser to the monthly visits to St. Mary’s Loaves and Fishes program, and the Adult Day Care Center in Trenton, Lori joined the school’s eighth graders in community outreach ministering to the needy. She loved watching the changes in interactions the students had with the poor and the aged. “To see our students playing bingo and balloon volleyball with the people at the daycare center or serving meals to the hungry at St. Mary’s was wonderful,” Lori said. There is so much value in getting privileged kids “out of their comfort zone and in busting stereotypes about the poor and the elderly,” she added.
Over her 25 years as a member of Princeton UMC, Lori has supported many of the church’s ministries, including Worship and the Puerto Rican Mission Trips. She currently heads Trustees, sings in the choir, serves on the altar guild, and co-directs the Cornerstone Community Kitchen’s Clothing Closet. Additionally, she is the de facto church archivist.
Outside church, Lori recently began volunteering with Solidaridad New Jersey, a group that tries to find asylum for refugees from Spanish-speaking countries. By definition, volunteerism is the practice of providing time and skills to benefit others, but volunteers also reap benefits from giving of their time and talents. Lori feels called to ministry for many reasons. “It’s easy to get discouraged when you see so many people who need help, but when I see how generous others are with their time, it renews my faith and hope,” she shared. Beyond that, “volunteering is a reminder of how fortunate we are and how we can change things for others,” she concluded.
Written by Kate Lasko