'Holy Casseroley!' Har Sinai food drive donates two weeks of meals for Baltimore's needy

Taigh, Kian and Pierce Donovan crowded around a 20-gallon blue plastic bucket Sunday with a group of other amateur chefs and began the messy process of straining several pounds of boiled farfalle noodles and mixing them into giant trays of pasta primavera.

“Every noodle counts!” said their father, Dan Donovan, 51, supervising as they transferred the pasta into a mixture of sauce, milk, onions, peppers, carrots, broccoli and Parmesan cheese.

More than 100 volunteers made 175 casseroles — which will provide 4,000 meals at Paul’s Place and the Baltimore Station soup kitchens — at the annual “Holy Casseroley” event at Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills.

In addition to the primavera, volunteers at 10 stations prepared ziti, lasagna, beefaroni, chili and rice, nachos, chicken tetrazzini, chicken and rice, spaghetti, and ranchero macaroni and cheese. They loaded the trays into a truck, en route to the shelters’ freezers, from which the casseroles are expected to provide two weeks of meals.

The interfaith casserole-making marathon, which this year included 30 to 40 members of St. John’s Episcopal Church near Glyndon, also served as a celebration of the 175th anniversary of Har Sinai, the oldest continuously Reform Jewish congregation in the United States.

Linda Joseph, the synagogue’s senior rabbi, said the food drive embodied the Hebrew teachings of “tzedakah,” which means charity, justice or righteousness, and “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world with good deeds.

“When you do something like make the casseroles or take them down to the shelter and serve food, it makes it more real,” the rabbi said. “When you put a human face on what’s such an abstract problem, it helps build empathy. It builds a stronger Baltimore and a stronger America.”

Arleen and Pat “Shep” Shepherd, members at Har Sinai, have organized the event for the past five years.

“It doesn’t matter what religion, how old you are, or what ethnic background, we’re all the same at heart,” Arleen Shepherd said. “Doing for others is the secret to happiness. It builds a phenomenal energy, and it demonstrates how amazing Baltimore and this country really are.”

Shep (nobody calls him Pat) wore a big white chef’s hat as he buzzed around a large room in the synagogue, checking on the nearly dozen different groups of volunteers stationed at industrial-sized food prep tables.

“Bringing people together like this has an energy to it,” he said. “To take action, to create, to help others is a higher level of helping.”

The Rev. Joe Cochran, associate rector at St. John’s, said a few members of the church participated last year and had such a good time that they persuaded the parish leadership to launch a partnership with Har Sinai.

The church contributed money, food donations and dozens of members to the cause Sunday, he said.

“It’s tactile, getting your hands dirty to help other people,” Cochran said. “Rather than stroking a check, actually going out to help someone. Just the fellowship with people of a different faith, coming together to help people in need — it’s quite beautiful, and it serves our God in beautiful ways.”

When Marc Nachman, 61, a Har Sinai member, saw how many cars were in the parking lot, he thought the food drive must have coincided with another event at the synagogue.

“I had no idea this was going to be this busy,” he said.

Andi Rogow, 9, of Reisterstown, said she liked the chance to “make food for people that don’t have any.”

Rachael Carter, 10, of East Baltimore, was on spaghetti duty. She said the food drive made her feel that she was making a difference in her city.

“I like to help people, because you never know what they’re going through in their life, and saying ‘hi’ or smiling can change their day,” she said.

Donovan, who brought his kids from Upperco to help with the casserole drive, enjoyed watching them meet people of different backgrounds and embrace the importance of charity.

“There’s no substitute,” he said. “I learn best by doing something. … To see my kids doing this is a thrill.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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