By Ron Mott
BLOCK ISLAND, RI -- For more than half a century, Mary Donnelly -- still toiling as a state nurse at the spry age of 83 -- has helped nurse fellow Islanders back to health after surgeries, difficult pregnancies and countless other ailments.
But when she saw how her neighbors -- the 1,000 or so who live on the island year-round -- were struggling financially, especially through the winter months, Donnelly wanted to help.
The Mary D. Fund was established in 1979. Donnelly is the lone administrator. The non-profit raises money every year -- the Mary D. Ball in August is the social event of the season -- and helps locals pay for everything from mortgage payments to doctors' and electricity bills when they can't.
Donnelly's popularity tends to surge when the jet-setters who crowd this quaint New England getaway from Memorial Day to Labor Day head home. "Closed" signs suddenly dot storefront windows, streets empty, quiet settles in.
Making ends meet becomes a real test of discipline and faith for many residents who stick around past tourist season.
"So, it's a hard time," Donnelly says. "They're either running stores or restaurants or taxis or whatever. But then, as you can see down at the taxi stand, it's just empty now.
"So they have, they have a problem."
But she's got the checkbook. Last year, Donnelly put more than $50,000 worth of assistance in its registry.
And while she doesn't approve every request for aid, when she does, it usually comes with a caveat or two about how to stretch budgets and survive life on the island.
After all, she's done it for 53 years. On a nurse's pay.
Click here to help the Mary D. Fund or write your tax-deductible check to "Mary D Fund" and mail it to: P.O. Box 323, Block Island, RI 02807.