by Sue Austreng
Everyone who knew the Rev. Bernard Reiser had a “Reiser story.” The founding pastor of Epiphany Catholic Church, Coon Rapids, touched thousands of lives with his insights and humor, caring compassion and inspired instruction.
Perhaps Reiser’s heart beat most passionately for the people of Haiti, impoverished souls living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In fact, after visiting Haiti for the first time more than a dozen years ago, Reiser founded Reiser Relief, Inc., a volunteer-run non-profit organization designed to minister to and serve the impoverished people of Haiti.
“As I left the island, there was a burning in my heart and soul that I needed to do something to make a change in as many of these peoples’ lives as possible,” Reiser said when describing what inspired him to start Reiser Relief.
Even though Reiser’s life ended with his death on Dec. 27, 2011, his spirit continues to inspire Reiser stories.
“That story hasn’t ended. His spirit is still living on and this (Reiser Relief) is something that was dear to Father,” said Shelley Mannella, who has traveled to Haiti on Reiser Relief service trips many times and left for another visit Monday.
“What a great way in memory of him to share what he was passionate about, to carry on his legacy. His spirit is still living on.”
Missy Ness, another frequent Reiser Relief service trips participant, shares Mannella’s passion for continuing Reiser Relief efforts.
“It’s a privilege to be able to honor what he represented to me and walk with the Haitian people,” Ness said.
Already, in its 13 years of existence, Reiser Relief, partnering with Healing Haiti, has provided daily fresh water delivery to 24 neighborhoods in Cite Soleil, reaching as many as 2,800 families each day with fresh water, free of charge.
Reiser Relief also supports the Terre Promise Primary School in Cite Soleil, and the organization has built and supports Reiser Heights school for preschool through sixth-grade students.
In addition, the non-profit has completed building and establishing a feeding center, and is currently building an orphanage to house up to 40 children.
“From the depths of my heart, we will see many more blessings from the Lord in the times to come,” Reiser said a few months before his death. “We must trust in the Lord with our hearts and spend our time in adoration… Keep moving forward in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It seems Mannella and Ness and many others are determined to continue sharing the blessings of which Reiser spoke, diligently persisting with enduring relief efforts in Haiti.
One way Reiser Relief efforts endure is with money raised at the annual Keep the Wheel Turning fund-raiser.
“You don’t have to go to Haiti to help Reiser Relief,” Mannella said.
Doris Schulte, organizer of the April 24 Keep the Wheel Turning fund-raising event, agreed. “I picture our friend Father Reiser talking about his first trip to Haiti… tears in his eyes every time,” she said.
“And he said, ‘You can’t look at that and not help. How can I turn my back on this?’ I can’t imagine not continuing (Reiser Relief).”
These days, Schulte is immersed in planning efforts for the benefit, staged at the Courtyards of Andover.
Already Sherwin Linton and his wife Pam have agreed to provide musical entertainment and KQRS radio personality Pat Ebertz will emcee the event, while Dave Christian serves as auctioneer.
Live and silent auctions will boost the Reiser Relief fund-raiser proceeds and, according to Schulte, several of Reiser’s personal items as well as a couple of signed copies of “Reiser’s Ramblings” will be among the auction items, which are still being gathered.
Past Keep the Wheel Turning auction items have included weekend trips, professional sports apparel and signed photographs, artwork, gift baskets and more.
Keep the Wheel Turning benefit money goes directly to Reiser Relief, Mannella said.
“So many people ask where the money goes and I can tell you I’ve seen firsthand how it is used in Haiti,” Mannella said. “Last year we were able to buy a brand new water truck with benefit money. That truck will arrive in Haiti soon and will be used in Cite Soleil.”
Other benefit money is used in Terre Promise and Reiser Heights, two Haitian schools established and supported by Reiser Relief.
“But you don’t have to spend any money to help Reiser Relief. Just come to the benefit, learn what Reiser Relief is about and give your support by praying for the people of Haiti,” said Schulte.
In addition to attending the Keep the Wheel Turning benefit, the public is invited to participate in Reiser Relief efforts in a couple of hands-on ways: Help pack meals for hungry Haitians at Feed My Starving Children headquarters in Coon Rapids on March 21, or make plans to travel to Haiti as part of the Oct 22-29 Reiser Relief mission trip.
To learn more about the benefit or to sign up to help pack meals, call Schulte at 612-282-0106.
To learn more about Reiser Relief, visit www.ReiserRelief.org, and visit the April 24 Keep the Wheel Turning Reiser Relief benefit event.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]