By William T. Clew
DUDLEY – When Father Krystof Korcz came to Dudley to be pastor of St. Andrew Bobola Parish in 2014, he brought something with him from Athol, where he had been pastor.
It was an idea he turned into a program in Athol. It was a parish fellowship meal, a meal planned, prepared and served by parishioners and other volunteers to those in need, the poor, the homeless, and people who live alone and want company. And he felt that it should be done at St. Andrew Bobola, too.
So he called a parish meeting to discuss the idea. Carol Cooke, who said she was not a parishioner at the time, took part in that meeting and in subsequent planning meetings. Mrs. Cooke said that when a committee was being formed to plan the program, Father Korcz said, “I think the Holy Spirit is calling Carol to be chairwoman.”
Mrs. Cooke heard the call, from wherever it came. She is chairwoman of the Fellowship Meal committee and now is also a parishioner at St. Andrew Bobola.
The Fellowship Meal is prepared and served in the church basement. Meals are served from 5 to 6 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. (The next one is July 6.)
The program started in February. There were about 30 guests at that first meal,
Mrs. Cooke said, and about 40 volunteers. Now it is usually about 100 to 120 guests at the meals, with 30 or more volunteers.
Volunteers come from the parish, the community and from some of the schools in the area. A few are juveniles from the Webster-Dudley District Court who are required to do community service.
On June 1, Susan West Engelkemeyer, Nichols College president, and others from the Nichols community, were on the serving line. On June 15 the serving line included Dean Kochanowski, Dudley fire chief; Lisa L. Berg, Dudley town assessor; Debi Comes and Linda Brink.
The volunteers plan the menus, buy the food, cook, serve the meals to guests seated at tables in the church basement hall, clear the tables and clean up after each meal.
David Hebert, general manager of the dining service at Nichols College, cooks and supervises others in meal preparation, plans the meals with volunteers, including Darleen Bomba, committee secretary, and Marie Lane, who also helps do the shopping. Ms. Bomba said they always look for the best prices. Some food, she said, is donated by area supermarkets.
Mr. Hebert lives in Ansonia, Conn., about a two-hour drive from Dudley. During the summer he has fewer duties at the college and he usually spends more time at home, he said. But this year he is giving up some of that time to stay with the Fellowship Meal program.
The program takes August off, then resumes in the fall.
Money comes from donations from parishioners, people outside the parish and from some of the diners, who leave money in a container set aside in the dining room.
One woman, in her 90s, always leaves a donation. She told Paul Joseph, a Dudley selectman and volunteer at the meals, that she enjoys the company of other diners. She said it’s like going out to a restaurant.
This is not a soft drink and sandwich program. Mr. Hebert said the meals each week cost from $200 to $300. The menus are for a full meal. For example, on June 1 the diners enjoyed pasta salad, slow-roasted pot roast, red bliss potatoes, glazed carrots and brownies, with coffee, tea or water. On June 15 the menu included watermelon, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, corn-on-the-cob, cole slaw and marble cake. Mr. Hebert said the ever-popular spaghetti and meatballs will be the main course for the first Wednesday in July.
On June 15, Mr. Hebert, Sean Guerin and Seth Apher worked the kitchen. Mr. Guerin is a constable in Dudley and a member of the Planning Board.
Seth Apher is a freshman at Tantasqua Regional High School in Sturbridge and is a student in the culinary arts course. He said his father told him about the meal program at St. Andrew Bobola and he has been volunteering for four months. He said he has learned “a lot, here and at school.”
The experience, he said, “will help me to be a better cook and better at culinary in general.”
On June 15 he helped cook the meal, then asked what he should do next.
“Watermelon,” said Mr. Guerin, handing him a very serious-looking knife. He took the knife, held the watermelon with his left hand and sliced the watermelon in half. Mr. Guerin suggested that he fold the fingers of his left hand into his palm to lessen the chance that he nick a finger.
The cooked food was taken to a serving line in the dining room. There it was dished out to the servers, who carried the plates to the round tables that fill the hall. Everything moved rapidly and efficiently. The clean-up went quickly.
All the food is used. Some of the guests take left-overs home. Some take another meal. Some volunteers take food to the Dudley Fire Station for firefighters there. And some is given to homeless people.
The Fellowship Meal has spun off another ministry, one that helps the homeless in and around Dudley.
Lauri Joseph, wife of the selectman, and Lisa Berg, are the movers and shakers of the program.
Mrs. Berg said that a few homeless people began to attend the free fellowship meals. Apparently they learned about the meals from Selectman Joseph.
“They trust Paul,” Mrs. Berg said.
But she and the Josephs felt that the homeless needed more than the meals. So they began to go to yard sales and on Facebook to ask for donations to get backpacks. Mrs. Berg said that when she was at the Town Hall and people came in to have things notarized, she didn’t charge them a fee. Instead she asked for a donation for the backpack program. One man gave $40, she said.
They stuff the backpacks with items the homeless can use, such as bottled water and juice, tea, sugar, energy bars, pull-top containers of fruit, pasta, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, tissues, multi-purpose wipes, soap, shampoo, shaving cream, combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste, facecloths and towels, first aid kits, pens and pencils, notepads, bug spray, emergency blankets and much more.
Donations come from all over, Mrs. Berg and Mrs. Joseph said. One day a truck from the United Church of Christ dropped off 54 sleeping bags. Some of the homeless live in the woods in the area, they said. Eleven people had been helped by the program by the middle of June, they said.