Person of the Week
Margaret Diglio: Charity that Knows No Bounds
Margaret Diglio makes charitable work a large part of her life. With her husband, Vincent, she volunteers her time to run the food programs at the Community Services of Madison and, more recently, to work with an organization called Niņos Adelante to teach students in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, how to speak English. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
To Margaret Diglio and Vincent, her husband of 55 years, volunteering is not an activity done on the side. It is, instead, a way of life, a vocation of sorts that propels them to carve out time from their regular activities to help those in need.
In fact, even their vacation has become an occasion for a new form of volunteerism and charitable work.
Every January, the Diglios escape winter and make a trip to Mexico. But following a suggestion from Vincent, a previous person of the week himself, the couple has turned its yearly rest and relaxation into a mission for educating disadvantaged high school students.
Through an organization called Niños Adelante, Margaret and Vincent have begun to teach English to Mexican secondary school students.
The organization’s main objective is to provide deserving students from poor families in Zihuatanejo the opportunity and incentive to complete their education through a scholarship program. The Diglios had been sponsoring a Mexican student with her studies when Vincent made the suggestion to Margaret.
The organization “wanted English-speaking people to work with the high school students to provide them with more English-speaking opportunities,” Margaret explains. “And my husband was a language teacher in high school, so he said to me several years ago, ‘I’d like to do this.’”
Margaret herself worked in education for 18 years, 12 of them as a principal. Although she was a bit reticent in the beginning to change the setting of their vacations, she admits that soon after they began their new undertaking, “of course then I [got] hooked.”
Volunteers for Niños Adelante, including the Diglios, teach high school students English on three levels: beginners, intermediate, and advanced. Margaret and Vincent take the beginners class, which numbers anywhere from 18 to 22 students. The class is conducted after school, from 3 to 5 p.m., three day a week for five weeks.
Margaret has been so involved with Niños Adelante that she now serves as the secretary of the board of directors.
She relishes the experience, saying, “It just makes you feel good and the Mexican people are so grateful. And the great thing that’s happened over the years is the families invite us to their home(s).”
Charity Work Closer to Home
The endeavor in Mexico is only the latest in the Diglios’ long list of charitable efforts.
Closer to home, they have for years focused their attention on stamping out hunger through the programs of the Community Services of Madison, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that provides services and assistance to Madison residents through private donations.
They have been involved with the food basket program and the food pantry, with Margaret serving as the coordinator for the former and helping Vincent manage the latter.
Margaret says that they started working with the food basket program about 16 years ago to provide Madison residents in need the means to prepare meals for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
“We provide them with the ingredients because we don’t have a kitchen. We provide them with the ingredients for a holiday meal,” Margaret explains.
Under the Diglios’ management, the food pantry has grown exponentially. From its beginnings in a small closet in the Social Services Office, it grew to a larger space in the Fellowship Hall at the Madison Congregational Church, and then to a storage unit on 50 Mungertown Road.
With the help of generous benefactors, the pantry now has the capability to store fresh produce and frozen food items.
“We have two refrigerators that store only vegetables and produce. And we have a refrigerator for [when] we buy milk and eggs. We have two freezers…one for [when] we get donations from Stop & Shop [of] frozen products and the other just has poultry products,” she says.
Constantly focused on eliminating hunger, Margaret also realized that during the summer months when school is out, the children of Madison families in need should continue to have nutritious meals.
“All of a sudden I thought one day, ‘They’re home for 10 weeks in the summer. That means five days a week they need lunches that typically their families don’t have to provide.’”
Thanks to Margaret, the town now has its summer lunch program where families of children who qualify can obtain groceries from the food pantry to make each child five lunches for every week school is out.
For their exemplary service and many contributions to the town, the Diglios received Shore Publishing’s Beacon Award in 2015.
Margaret and Vincent hope that more volunteers would join in the work at the food pantry and other programs at the Community Services of Madison. She says that volunteers who are available even for a few hours a month are needed at the pantry. For more information on the Community Services of Madison, visit madisoncommunityservices.org.
She puts emphasis on the intangible reward volunteers receive–the satisfaction of knowing that lives are improved as a result of their efforts.
In addition, the Diglios find it heartwarming to have their children and grandchildren join in by raising funds for families in need or buying supplies for the food pantry or the holiday baskets.
In her work at the pantry, Margaret also finds remarkable the generosity of Madison residents, even those who are of modest means.
“About four years ago, a friend of mine made a contribution. She and her husband had collected coins in a jar and she gave the jar to me. There were $350 worth of coins in the jar, and she said, ‘Pick a family who you think could use this at Christmas time.’ She said that many years ago, she and her husband were in a difficult financial situation, and her community and church helped them, and they just decided they want to help somebody,” she says.
“I contacted one of the moms and she came, and it was it was very emotional. She has three children [and] Christmas was going to be very difficult and this allowed them a little cushion. So what happened was the next year, the recipient of that money jar came to the pantry with a money jar, for me to pay it forward to another family.”
Margaret explains that a sense of gratitude has been the driving force for the years of charitable work she and her husband have done.
“When we retired, we both said, ‘Life is very good to us. And life is not always good to everybody.’ So, while we have good health and good intentions, let’s do this work,” Margaret remembers.
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