By Mary K. Tilghman
4:23 PM EST, November 19, 2012
Organizers of the annual Thanksgiving dinner for guests from the Westside Emergency Men's Shelter, Mosaic Community Services and Spring Grove Hospital decided to change things a bit this year.
And as a result, it looks like they are going to have a bigger crowd for the holiday event.
Usually held on Thanksgiving afternoon in the Rice Auditorium on the campus of Spring Grove State Hospital, this year's dinner will be served in the homier Cafe on the Grove, a short distance from the auditorium on the hospital campus, the evening before Thanksgiving.
"This year, we decided to try something new," said Joe Loverde, who with his wife, Cindy, has organized the dinner every year since 2007.
In all, up to 180 guests, mostly men, are expected to come to the dinner from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
About 65 men from the Westside shelter are expected, along with another 20 or 30 of Spring Grove's residents.
There are approximately 60 clients from Mosaic Community Services expected, an increase from the 30 who attended last year's event.
"They called me this year and said the residents were asking about our dinner," Loverde said.
The annual event is important to the clients of Mosaic Community Services, according to Jeff Richardson, Mosaic's executive director.
"People look forward to it," he said, on the attraction provided by the atmosphere of good will and the warmth of so many volunteers.
The holiday season can be a difficult time for the people recovering from severe mental illness or addiction that Mosaic serves.
"Having this community opportunity to be part of this dinner is important to them," Richardson said.
"The holidays in general are difficult for many folks," he said, noting that the weak economy has even made it worse.
For those with mental illness, it can be "more challenging," he said.
"They can feel isolated, and many are cut off from family. This helps them," he said.
Holding the dinner in the cafe is easier on organizers. Tables and chairs are already set up in the restaurant and the fully-functioning kitchen is only a few steps away. That means no need for hauling food to the auditorium or keeping it warm in steam cabinets this year.
"That was quite a job," Loverde said.
Cafe staff will cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from bird to pumpkin pie, even that Baltimore favorite, sauerkraut.
Because of the large guest list and since the cafe seats 100, two seatings are planned.
"We won't be rushing anybody," Loverde said.
The dinner is always served to guests.
"We want to make them feel special that day," Loverde said.
This year, since it's evening, there will even be candlelight.
And there will be the usual extra touches. Keyboardist David Zee, vocalist Cara Detwiler and drummer Barry Brown will perform.
Santa is coming to spread his message and hand out goodie bags filled with toiletries, socks and a guest favorite, mints, to all the guests on their way out.
Loverde began volunteering with the Westside shelter six years ago at the encouragement of Bob Greenwalt, a local attorney who was volunteering there.
After helping out at the shelter Loverde decided to set up a nonprofit foundation and the Loverde Family Community Foundation was born to support the shelter and a wide variety of other Catonsville area organizations.
"The main focus is the shelter," Loverde said.
Fundraisers, including a recent dance, and a yearly fundraising letter, fund their efforts.
Greenwalt plans to be there to serve dinner, one of 25 volunteers expected to help out.
"Unfortunately, it has grown," he said. "The need is still there."
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