Mary Sumter celebrates her birthday, and friendship
She tells the students who help at the food pantry she founded: 'You are a bright star in the community'

The smile on Mary Sumter’s face shows how she feels sharing her birthday with her friends from BOCES (Photo by Geri Corey)

By Geri Corey
GOSHEN — There was singing and much joy last Friday at the A.U.M.P. Church on Main St. in Goshen, where a jolly gathering celebrated friendship and a birthday.
Students from Orange-Ulster BOCES brought brightly colored cupcakes to the church to wish Mary Sumter a happy 84th birthday and celebrate the day with her.
There’s a close bond between Sumter and the students, who are with BOCES's Including Communities Program. They come to the First Presbyterian Church of Goshen on Tuesdays to help with the Goshen Ecumenical Food Pantry located there. Sumter, who started the food pantry years ago, is always on hand to welcome them.
So it was fitting that the students came to the church she’s attended for many years to wish her a happy birthday and share cupcakes.
Before they went downstairs to enjoy fellowship, the 11 students sat in the sanctuary with Sumter. She chatted with them and treated them to several songs, including “This Little Light of Mine,” which the students happily joined in singing with her.
“This is such as blessing," Sumter told the students. "It’s a blessing to see all of you who came to celebrate with me. You’re a bright star in the community. You do such great work.”
Special education teacher Carla Karnavezos said, “This is a great group of kids, and they love to be busy. The community of Goshen is wonderful to us. Because of them we give purpose to our students’ lives.”
Along with helping at the pantry, the students do light cleaning and work as classroom helpers at Kennett schools of gymnastics and dance. They also work at the Lego Center, Limoncello at the Orange Inn and Catherine’s Restaurant, and other locations.
“They help wherever needed,” said special education teacher Susan DeGeorge.
“We try to make our students independent, responsible, and have the ability to self-advocate,” Karnavezos added.
Sumter is a big fan.
“They’re so sweet," she said. "We’re happy to have them in our lives."
'The most important thing I did in my life'An always-busy Sumter raised four of her biological children and seven foster children while she worked as a teacher and licensed and certified physical therapist. She admits that her greatest joy, though, was caring for her mother, who died at age 100, and her mother-in-law, who died at 101.
“Caring for them was most important thing I did in my life,” she said.
Through the years, Sumter has held many positions in the A.U.M.P. Church, and now she’s the local missionary.
“I’m grateful and happy to do what I do,” she said of her work at the church. At home, “I’m still cooking, cleaning, doing laundry...just going more slowly.”
The festivities concluded with Sumter opening a gift bag and receiving a handmade card from each student and plenty of high-fives. She said she saves all of the cards that she’s received through the years. She occasionally reads them, and admits that she “sheds a tear.”
“Thanks for celebrating my birthday with me," she told the students as they filed out. "You’re a really great group."