Maria Galarza and Kristen McGee

Maria Galarza and Kristen McGee

It was early in 1953 when Antonio Galarza came to the states from Puerto Rico. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the Philippines. After being discharged from the Army, he studied two years in the University in Puerto Rico but decided to migrate to New York, seeking better opportunities, and so in June 1953, he came to New York. By December 1953, his wife and three daughters came to join him. They settled in New York state.

So they would not forget their heritage, the three young sisters returned to Puerto Rico every other summer to live with the family there.

The family believed in being a part of the community, in giving back to the community more than they received and lending a helping hand where and when necessary.

The middle daughter, Maria Galarza, came to the Phoenixville area in 2013 after retiring from New York state service and has built a community here in her new home. She has two adult children who moved to Pennsylvania and stayed in the Phoenixville area. Kristen McGee lives in Phoenixville, and David Lindner and his family live in Spring City.

It so happened that Kristen attended the University of Delaware and moved to Pennsylvania after graduating. First living in Conshohocken, she and her husband, Ryan, moved to area in 2012. There are three young McGee children — a boy and two girls, all 5 and under.

Maria quickly became a part of the founding group behind Ann’s Heart. It is a “public charity organization whose mission is to provide a place of welcome and human services for all Phoenixville area people.”

Ann’s Heart opened the Code Blue Overnight Warming Center in January 2016 in the Sacred Heart Church Hall. Later, it leased the Sacred Heart School building to form a community education center.

It was at this time Kristen was appointed to the board of directors and took on the role of being chair of the communication committee. A year later, the board decided to hire an executive director to address the work of Ann’s Heart as it was rapidly growing and needed someone to oversee it all, and Kristen chose to leave her corporate work and was hired to become the director of Ann’s Heart. While Kristen’s background was in the corporate world, she felt compelled to change direction.

Ann’s Heart acquired the lease for the vacated Sacred Heart School building next to the church. The group is looking to expand services to all of the Phoenixville area and continue Code Blue.

Code Blue serves individuals from all walks of life experiencing some form of homelessness. The goal is to provide a cold weather overnight shelter for anyone in need. It is open from mid-November continuously through mid-April when temperatures drop to 35 degrees or lower. It is available 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week.

Ann’s Heart is always looking to expand its network of services to the community by providing space and location for these services. Ann’s Heart is committed to not duplicating services in the community. The development of The Home of Education, the Arts, Resources & Technology (H.E.A.R.T.) through education is next up on their agenda.

Donations, fundraising and volunteers are what keeps growth moving. To find out on how and what you can do, visit

Here is a family favorite.

Maria’s Tres Leches Cake

1 pound cake (cut into ½-inch slices)

¼ cup heavy cream

1 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

1 12-oz. can of evaporated milk

12 strawberries cut into ¼-inch slices

Mix together heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk, and put aside. In a circular baking dish, create a base layer of slices of pound cake. Pour over the base layer ⅓ of the milk mixture. Layer strawberry slices over the base.

Create a secondary layer of pound cake slices on top of the strawberries. Pour over the base layer ⅓ of the remaining milk mixture. Add another layer of strawberry slices.

Use the last of pound cake slices to cover over strawberries. Using the remaining milk mixture, saturate the top layer of pound cake slices. Refrigerate for one to two hours. Take out of the fridge, turn over the circular dish onto a plate and remove the dish. The cake should stand on the plate. Decorate top of cake with whipped cream or additional strawberries as desired.


Let Bette hear from you: Search YouTube for “Look Who’s Cooking with Bette Banjack,” as well (search bar: Banjack) for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.” Her book, “2 Cups of Yesterday,” is available at Gateway Pharmacy or by contacting her.

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