On the very last, most beautiful day of April 2013, 143 tireless workers put down their frying pans, serving trays, aprons, and hand trucks to feast and be celebrated. From the farthest corners of the Bronx to the Lower East Side, volunteers from food pantries and soup kitchens supported by Catholic Charities Community Services gathered at the Triangle Building of Alianza for the first-ever Volunteer Appreciation Event held in their honor.
The same men and women who, earlier that day, were packing 200 bags of food or scrubbing pots, got the chance to sit down to a catered meal while CCCS staff called out name after name of volunteer chefs, food packers, inventory specialists, and data base managers. In all, 46 program coordinators and long-time volunteers from 14 different programs came up to the podium to receive certificates from Monsignor Kevin Sullivan. Honors were given for years of service ranging from 20 to 36 years, and for those special volunteers who worked “Above and Beyond”, as their certificates stated. These included senior Maria Sanchez, founder of St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen in the Bronx, who has been leading the program for 20 years, and young Walter Martin, who uses his free time in between job interviews to work for no less than 4 different pantries.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for so long” said Jeanne McGettigan, Director of Emergency Food Services. “Monsignor Sullivan and Staci-Jo Bruce, Director of Volunteer Services were the ones who finally made it happen. It was so moving to see all of these generous, hard-working people gathered together in one place. We really are one big team, but we don’t often get to see ourselves that way.”
Ms. McGettigan said the event organizers were particularly pleased that CCCS staff was able to make these activities completely bi-lingual. Well over 50% of the volunteers in attendance consider Spanish their first language. To make sure that all felt included, everything from invitations, to program cards and presentations by speakers was carried out in Spanish and English. Project Manager Lizaura German emceed and translated as needed. Monsignor Sullivan and Beatriz Diaz Taveras, Executive Director of CCCS traveled comfortably between languages as they thanked the volunteers for their steadfast efforts to beat back hunger in their communities.
Also delivering a rousing speech in two languages was special guest Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez of Washington Heights and Inwood. Remembering how, during his childhood, his own family had sometimes needed food assistance, he told the volunteers that he “didn’t think twice” about dedicating Council discretionary funds to the busy CCCS pantry nearby his office.
An additional service award was presented to Christopher Melito of Credit Suisse, recognizing the company’s Day of Service, which brought 20 corporate employees to a CCCS food pantry for the day to prepare and demonstrate healthy cooking methods and give pantry customers the equipment to carry out the same practices in their own kitchens.
The feeling in the room was so joyful, and the cumulative effect of hearing story after story of faith in action was so moving, a number of staff and volunteers stated their conviction that this first-ever event should now be considered an annual gathering not to be missed.