Helping Hands


                              “It is our obligation to put back into the world at least

                                the equivalent of what we take out of it.”

                                                                                                          -Albert Einstein



The Helping Hands project was started in 1997 by the Social Justice Committee of St Matthew Catholic Parish in Wausau. The committee had long looked for an opportunity for the parish to assist others in great need, such as an inner city parish or a mission in another country. In 1996, Sister Mary Pattison, OSB, a member of the committee, relayed a report from Sister Connie Ostrander, OSB, a member of Saint Bede Monastery, Eau Claire, who was working in Jamaica. Her letters spoke of the great poverty there.


At the committee's request, Father Robert Altmann, Pastor of St Matthew, invited Sister Connie to speak at all the Masses one weekend. Her vivid account of the poverty prompted the call for a meeting to discuss how our parish could be of help. The responding parishioners expressed great interest and suggested that Father Altmann contact Bishop Boyle, the Bishop of the then Vicariate of Mandeville, Jamaica. The Bishop responded and asked that we help Holy Cross Parish. We were told there was a small church but there had been no pastor there for over fifteen years. The Bishop promised to send a priest to Holy Cross Parish if we could provide other assistance.

In the spring of 1997, a group of six parishioners made a short visit to Jamaica to see the little church, to visit with Bishop Boyle and a small group of Sisters who lived and worked in the area. The group included Sister Mary Pattison, Deacon Gary and Emma Jolliffe, Tom and Mary Pat Roovers, and Leo Martin. They found many situations that were in desperate need.     


Tentative plans for assistance were formulated and brought before the St. Matthew Parish Council. Soon each Sunday morning a van was parked near the school for donations, such as summer clothing, school supplies, and simple household items. All this was packed, boxed, weighed and shipped to Jamaica. Because of Tom�s prior experiences with the Good News Group, Tom and Mary Pat Roovers assumed the responsibility as Co-Chairpersons for this new Helping Hands project.


Within a few months, a group of volunteers went to Jamaica. Their first projects included constructing a Basic School (pre-school � ages 3 to 5) at Holy Cross Parish and building several homes.


Each year since, groups of Helping Hands volunteers journey to the Mandeville Diocese to be of help to parishes and needy families throughout the Diocese, regardless of religious belief. Volunteers, who include people of all ages and various Christian faiths, pay all their own trip expenses and are not only from St Matthew Parish but include relatives and friends from throughout Central Wisconsin and the surrounding states. Priorities for projects are set with input from the pastors of the various parishes in the Mandeville Diocese.  Some of the pastors are missionary priests from around the globe.


Expansion to Kenya

One of the pastors that Helping Hands works with is Father Peter Gitumbu, a native of Kenya, Africa.  In 2003, Fr Peter invited Tom and Mary Pat Roovers and Leo and Ellen Martin to meet his family and experience his tribes living conditions during his home visit in Kenya.  As a result, a new project was developed to complete a new church building for the people in Ruchu Parish in Kandara, Kenya.  The following year a group of 25 volunteers from the Midwest completed the building of the church and did other work with the children and families in the area. A follow-up trip building and repairing homes was taken in 2006 and another in 2008.


Collection and Shipments

Helping Hands has collected and sent 719 ton of materials and supplies valued at $10,000,000 (US) to Jamaica and Kenya.  Originally transported by US Air Force via the Denton Plan, today most of the shipments are generously donated by Food for the Poor.

In addition to the many volunteers that help pack and load the shipping containers monthly from Leo & Ellen Martin’s storage barn, Helping Hands also has an active process for acquiring materials and donated items.  St Matthew Parish continues to have the collection of school and household items monthly during the summer as well as semi-annual envelopes for monetary donations. Larger items, bicycles, medical supplies and non-food items that are donated by area residents are picked up by volunteers and stored until shipment. 


Helping Hands volunteers in Dorchester, Colby, Eau Claire, Hudson, Twin Cites, Salt Lake City Utah, Fresno California and other communities regularly collect donated items for shipment. A valuable source for building materials is the salvaging of usable lumber from remodeling and tear-down projects in the area.  Many volunteer hours have helped gather materials from office buildings, factories, feed mill, and several homes being demolished or replaced.  In addition to donated materials and items, tax deductible monetary donations are always welcomed to purchase roofing materials and other necessities.


Initial  Accomplishments

·     Made 35 trips to Jamaica and 4 to Kenya, Africa, accomplishing the following:

·     Spent 3,637 humanitarian volunteer person days in South-Central Jamaica

     and Kenya, Africa working with our brothers and sisters building a variety

     of structures.

·     Constructed four basic schools (Holy Cross, Portland Cottage, Black River,

     Holy Cross addition) - each with playground equipment for the children.

·     Built two mission churches in Jamaica.

·     Completed construction and painting of St Gabriel Church in Africa.

·     Built a Medical Clinic in Santa Cruz, Jamaica.

·     Constructed 53 new homes in Jamaica and 4 new homes in Africa.

·     Repaired or replaced 73 roofs in Jamaica and 11 in Africa.

·     Repaired or replaced 92 outdoor toilets and outdoor kitchens in Jamaica and

     20 in Africa.

·     Made numerous home visits to assist families with bedding, clothing, basic

     housewares, etc.

·     Provided educational tuition for numerous students in Basic School, Primary,

     High School and College.


For additional information or to volunteer, contact Tom or Mary Pat Roovers at 715-842-4270 or email