Ellen Ozga; 30-Year Volunteer at Community Kitchen

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2006

Every Monday for more than 30 years, every Thanksgiving and every Christmas, Ellen Louise Ozga organized and cooked a nutritious breakfast for homeless people in Washington.

Mrs. Ozga, 76, who died of cancer Sept. 30 at her home in Washington, didn't have exalted ideas about what she did, said the Rev. John Mack of the First Congregational Church, who worked with her at the community kitchen in the Northwest Washington church for 23 years. She simply made sure that people who needed a meal were fed -- and fed well.

Using donated food, she whipped up souffl├ęs, rice pudding or, when necessary, macaroni and cheese. The men and women who lined up for the meals testified to the tastiness of her work.

"Monday mornings at Zacchaeus [Community] Kitchen is the best meal for the homeless anywhere in the city, day in and day out," Mack said. That legacy is due in no small part to Mrs. Ozga, a down-to-earth, gregarious woman who believed that "anyone who wasn't helping had to get out of the way. She wasn't that interested in looking for a big picture somewhere. She knew what her task was, and it was done with consistency, diligence and flair and joy and always with prayer."

Mrs. Ozga also was the voluntary groundskeeper at her church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Northwest Washington, where for almost 50 years she was a daily communicant.

She was born in Catskill, N.Y., and graduated in 1951 from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, now a part of Boston College. She attended graduate school at Georgetown University and joined the Central Intelligence Agency as an intelligence officer. While working in Frankfurt, West Germany, she met a fellow officer, Henry A. Ozga, whom she married in 1955. They later lived in London in the late 1960s.

Back in Washington, Mrs. Ozga became a licensed real estate agent in the 1970s, working for Begg Realtors and then Long & Foster Real Estate before retiring about 1996. She traveled extensively throughout Europe and also visited Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union. She enjoyed cooking, entertaining and playing tennis, but she never found herself without a voluntary task, usually directed toward helping the poor and homeless.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, through Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, awarded her its Order of Merit in 2004 for her long-standing service to the community. She also was recognized for her work with the homeless by the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. But according to her family and friends, she neither worked for recognition and compliments nor considered her dedication a burden.

"It wasn't a sacrifice for her. It was her joy," Mack said. "She followed the red-letter edition of the Bible. She knew the Beatitudes. She knew what Jesus taught, and she did it."

In addition to her husband, of Washington, survivors include four children, David A. Ozga of Seattle, Ellen Ozga Boardman of Washington, H. Adam Ozga of Jacksonville, Fla., and Jan C. Ozga of Hunt Valley, Md.; two brothers; two sisters; and five grandchildren.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company