George Elmer has run the Christ Our Light food pantry for the past five years and was a recent recipient of the Jefferson Award Medal. (Mike Matvey photo(
George Elmer has run the Christ Our Light food pantry for the past five years and was a recent recipient of the Jefferson Award Medal. (Mike Matvey photo(
George Elmer, who has run the food pantry at Christ Our Light in Loudonville for the last five years, was recently honored as a Jefferson Award Medalist, an honor given to individuals for their achievements and contributions through public and community service. (Mike Matvey photos)

George Elmer has enjoyed much success in his family and business life and at his parish, Christ Our Light in Loudonville. Elmer, 69, and his wife, Marcia, will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary this year, and the couple have three grown children — Sherri, Shawn and Steve and two grandchildren, Jenn and Eric.

After graduating from Ithaca College, Elmer began a 41-year career at Combined Insurance Company, rising from selling insurance to being an executive in the human resources department. At Christ Our Light parish, Elmer has led the church’s CROP Hunger Walk, Bishop’s Appeal (now Diocesan Appeal) and runs the food pantry in conjunction with the Regional Food Bank and The Food Pantries for the Capital District at a time when food insecurity is at an all-time high. In 2020, nearly 52,000 meals were distributed to families in their service area because of the increased demand due to the pandemic.

For his contributions to community and public service, Elmer recently was chosen as a Jefferson Award Medalist, which honors individuals for their achievements and contributions through public and community service. Elmer talks with editor Mike Matvey about how he met his wife, his time running the food pantry and his life philosophy in this latest installment of the interview series Catholic Voices.

TE: Tell me about your upbringing.
GE: If somebody would ask me, “Where did you grow up?” I would say Syracuse, which is where I attended high school. Although, my earlier years were in Utica and Scranton, Pa. I have one sister, Ann, and I have three brothers: Jerry, John and Bob. 

TE: Was religion always a part of your life?
GE: My mother was the lead in our family religion-wise. She has always been a very devout Catholic. I went to a Catholic school in my elementary years in both Utica and in Scranton. And I was an altar boy for several years at St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus, our parish in the Syracuse area.

TE: What was your earliest religious memory?
GE: I think that the earliest memory I have comes from pictures I see in one of our photo albums of me dressed up for my First Communion, standing in front of a statue of Mary in a flower garden at our church in Utica.

TE: How did you meet your wife?
GE: My wife’s family owns a summer trailer park (Docteur’s Cottages and Seasonal Park) along the St. Lawrence River where people permanently place their trailer homes, but for summer use only. Among the people that had a summer trailer in that park were my grandparents. I used to go up there as a young boy to visit them and to go fishing and boating. Eventually, I meet the daughter of the trailer park’s owner and as time went on I looked forward more to going up there to see her than I did fishing. We got married in 1973 in that same little town of Cape Vincent, New York. My wife’s family still owns the business and we go up there each year for some vacation time. We stay in one of their rental cottages right on the banks of the St. Lawrence, such a beautiful spot. On a side note, in 1973 I was asked by Cape Vincent’s Chamber of Commerce to be the emcee at their annual French Festival … and I’ve been doing it every year since, although the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled due to COVID.

TE: How did you make your way to Albany?
GE: I started with Combined Insurance Company in 1973. It was the same year I got married, the same year that I graduated from Ithaca College and the same year I started emceeing the French Festival, so a lot of things happened in 1973. I started with Combined Insurance in Watertown as a salesperson, soon after I was promoted into a sales management position. A few years later I took another promotion and we moved to Jamestown. From there my career took me to Combined’s office in Albany. We moved here in 1979 and have been here ever since. After two years as the company’s classroom trainer I moved into administration and in 1994 was promoted to an assistant vice president and director of our Field Human Resources Department, the position I retired from in 2014.

TE: Did you become involved with a parish when you moved to Albany?
GE: As soon as we moved here, we registered at what was then known as St. Francis de Sales. A little over 10 years ago, the parishes of St. Francis de Sales and Our Lady of Mercy merged, and our new parish, Christ Our Light was born. I have been an active Finance Committee member for at least the past 25 years and an usher (ambassador) at Mass for perhaps the last 10 years.

TE: When did you become involved with the parish food pantry?
GE: My involvement with the food pantry started out about 10 years ago when my wife and I did deliveries for the pantry. However, I remember the night, shortly after I retired, at one of our Finance Committee meetings when we were discussing the upcoming retirement from the Food Pantry of Harry Nopper, who had run the pantry for 20 years. Everyone was wringing their hands wondering who would take Harry’s place. Having just retired from an extremely active business position, and having had difficulty transitioning to the slower pace of retirement, my hand went up and I said “I’ll do it.” It’s hard to believe that was five years ago now.

TE: Talk about moving the food pantry back to Christ Our Light.
GE: Our pantry began over 35 years ago in the basement of our original St. Francis de Sales Church on Exchange Street in West Albany.  When that building closed we merged our pantry with the one at Our Lady of Mercy and ran the two pantries out of the same space. When Our Lady of Mercy closed, we were fortunate to be able to continue our food pantry’s operation out of the same space in the building that was now owned by the Macedonia Baptist Church. While the good folks there were very accommodating we none­theless yearned for ways to move our pantry into our parish building at Christ Our Light. After years of discussion and lots of plans that were just too costly, we finally got the green light for a low cost project to convert two of our building’s classrooms into a food pantry.

TE: Talk about the idea of serving the community through the food pantry.
GE: We serve a community in the South Colonie area. Some people think that because our church is in Loudonville, they say, “Oh, my goodness Loudon­ville. Who could need food in Loudonville?” You would be surprised. Our service area, like all others, has areas where people are food insecure, where many are not sure where their next meal is coming from. Our food pantry patrons represent a diverse segment of the community. They include senior citizens on fixed incomes, single parents struggling to make ends meet, families who are dealing with the effects of a yet-to-fully rebound economy, immigrant families and many others as well.

TE: Talk about being a Jefferson Award Medalist.
GE: I was nominated by our parish life director, Dick Thiesen and I am truly extremely humbled to have received this award. It is something that I never expected. I don’t think that I do any more than those in any of the other food pantries here in the Capital District. I am very appreciative of the award. I do put my heart and soul into all I do, but again, all the other hundreds of pantry volunteers work just as hard. I do know I couldn’t do my job — I couldn’t run our food pantry — without all the support that I get from everybody in our parish. It just wouldn’t be possible. To all of them I sincerely say, “Thank you.”

TE: What is your motto or life philosophy?
GE: My life philosophy is something known as “PMA.” It stands for Positive Mental Attitude and it has always been my life philosophy. Wikipedia states that Positive Mental Attitude is having an optimistic disposition in every situation in one’s life that ultimately attracts positive change and increases achievement. I say. “That’s for me.”