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As it was the fifth Saturday of the month, Newtown Rotary Club members and Reed Intermediate School students were busy volunteering at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House on September 30.
Newtown Rotary Club members serve at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House four times a year, when there is a fifth Saturday in a month, and local students — under the coordination of Reed teacher and honorary Rotary Club member Karen King — help the club members to serve meals during the day when they can attend.
The Dorothy Day Hospitality House serves between 60 to 80 hot meals each afternoon, according to its website, and it provides shelter to 16 people each night.
As the Rotary Club’s kitchen captain for the Dorothy Day Hospitality House effort, Alan Clavette said he has been involved in the effort since he joined the club in 2001.
“This hands-on project is one of the favorite activities of our club members, and often we involve family members who also enjoy helping out,” said Mr Clavette. “We always have a great time working together, and our ability to help others is always rewarding.”
Mr Clavette said Jim Gulalo was the kitchen captain on the project before him, and Mr Gulalo was “terrific at selecting the meals and getting everything coordinated.” Since Mr Clavette enjoys cooking, he was assigned to meal prep early on in his volunteer efforts. Now Mr Clavette said he selects the meals that will be served, the ingredients needed, and he assigns people to the various tasks involved with volunteering.
“We shop for everything needed, and then prepare a nice meal to serve everyone who is in need,” Mr Clavette explained by e-mail. “We never really know how many guests will be served, so the planning is always a bit difficult. We have never run out of food, but we’ve come very close a few times over the years.”
Rotary Club President Joe Hemingway said the club also had members serve on the shelter’s board in the past.
“We helped them to renovate their kitchen at one point as well,” said Mr Hemingway in an e-mail. “The preparation of and serving of meals for friends at Dorothy Day is a great way to serve and give back. And it is also a good time, it’s a good way to get together, work as a team, have a good time and help those who need a good hot meal.”
Mr Hemingway said it is rewarding to see the smiles and hear compliments about the meals. He also loves cooking and helps in the kitchen to prepare the meals.
“I truly believe that we get as much out of working together as a team to help others as they get out of it. And the students that come with [Ms King] to help out with the prep get a lot out [of it] knowing they have helped to make a difference in somebody’s life by giving up a little of their free time,” said Mr Hemingway.
In her time volunteering at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House, Ms King said she has seen the difference the services can make in the lives of those who, for whatever reason, find themselves in need of a helping hand.
“Newtown Rotary steps up each time and not only volunteers in the kitchen, but also provides the students with a chance to participate so that they can experience community service firsthand,” said Ms King. “The Reed kids work alongside Rotarians to make sandwiches and salad, roll silverware, cut desserts and decorate placemats, among other things.”
According to Newtown Rotary Club President Elect Julie Friend, on September 30 the Reed student volunteers designed placemats for clients, made sandwiches, packed brown paper bags for lunch, cut desserts that were handed out after dinner was served, and they took a tour of the building. A different group of students volunteers each time the Rotary Club offers time serving at the hospitality house, according to Ms Friend.
For many students, Ms King said, it is the first time they have seen or been aware of the need for soup kitchens and shelters.
“My job,” Ms King shared, “is to explain the background of [Dorothy Day Hospitality House], show them around, give them jobs to do, and hopefully to make the experience meaningful for them so that they will want to remain involved in community service in the future.”
The students are always quick to help when they see someone in need of assistance. Ms King said this kind of experience for fifth and sixth grade students makes a big impression, and the students look up to the club members, who come together solely for their shared desire to make a difference.
“Sometimes when I arrive at school in the morning, a former student or colleague will have left a bag with canned goods, soaps, shampoos, pillow cases, or hot sauce at my classroom door,” Ms King said in an e-mail. “ And it is not unusual for [Newtown High School] students to reach out to me years later to inquire about becoming more involved. It always makes me smile. The kids never forget this experience, and hopefully that passion and empowerment will transfer to whatever cause becomes close to their hearts as they get older.”
Ms Friend said the group served breaded baked chicken, corn, salad, cheesy mashed potatoes, and dessert of orange slices and cookies, or cut chocolate and vanilla cakes on September 30.
The Newtown Rotary Club members volunteer enough at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House to become familiar with some of the guests who come in for a “good hot meal,” according to Mr Clavette.
“We see new faces every time we serve as well. It is sad to see the variety of people who come for a meal,” Mr Clavette reflected. “They range from very young to elderly, of all races and genders. Occasionally children accompany a single mother. Some of the guests have housing, but usually very little extra money to pay for food. Others clearly are living on the streets, and may use the homeless shelter connected to the kitchen.”
Mr Clavette explained the rules of the Dorothy Day Hospitality House require that all guests show respect for each other. Any time there is an unruly situation, Mr Clavette said it is resolved quickly.
It just takes one person to make the day great, Mr Clavette said sharing that one guest approached Mr Hemingway on September 30. Mr Hemingway was working at the stove and filling dishes. The man told him, his “cooking was as good as he had ever had, and gave him a hug. As he was leaving, he thanked me as well and also gave me a huge hug. It is moments like these that keep us coming back year after year,” Mr Clavette said.
The Newtown Rotary Club is always looking for volunteers to assist at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House, according to Mr Clavette. People interested in volunteering can contact him by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Getting involved, Ms King said, is not hard.
“I tell the kids that no matter where they live in the future, there will always be people who need a helping hand,” she said. “Becoming involved is as easy as becoming aware of your surroundings, making a phone call, and showing up.”