Providing taste of holiday for less fortunate in Catonsville

Catonsville Times
Catonsville residents take time this Thanksgiving to help those less fortunate

This Thanksgiving Eve, some two dozen Catonsville residents will gather not at the bar or a family's home, but at Spring Grove Hospital Center, where they'll serve Thanksgiving dinner to neighbors less fortunate than themselves.

The event, put on every year by the Loverde Family Community Fund, aims to give the area's homeless community an authentic Thanksgiving experience.

"We thought it was something nice to do for our neighbors," said Joe Loverde, who, with wife Cindy, started the fund in 2007. "It's hard to believe it's been nine years."

The dinner serves the men of the Westside Emergency Men's Shelter and some Mosaic clients, but they're not the only ones who benefit from the event, Loverde said.

With a need for only about 30 to 35 volunteers to run the dinner, he usually gets interest from more volunteers than he has use for, he said.

"We definitely don't have any problem getting volunteers," Loverde said. "It's something everybody wants to do."

Brian Costantini is a volunteer who's been helping to serve the meals since the beginning. He sits on the Loverde Family Community Fund board and is a longtime friend of the Loverde family, he said.

"I'm always taken aback by how appreciative they are," Costantini said of the people who come to the dinner.

The first year they hosted it, he said, many of the guests insisted on staying after the dinner was over to help clean up.

Costantini said one guest told his daughter, Cara Detwiler, who has also helped serve the dinner in the past, that he wanted to come back the next year as a volunteer.

For the first years of the event, it was hosted on Thanksgiving day, but switched a few years ago to the Wednesday before, he said. Even though that meant pushing his own family's Thanksgiving meal up into the early afternoon or, some years, caused it to be rescheduled to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it was never a problem, Costantini said. "It's not a task," he said. "We all enjoy it."

In addition to a warm meal, the guests who attend the dinner receive a real restaurant experience, Loverde said, something he said he and other volunteers take great pride in being able to offer.

"They walk through that line every day," he said of standard serving lines, like those used in many soup kitchens. "This is one day where they come in and sit down."

The guests also get live music and a visit by a volunteer dressed as Santa, Loverde said. And each guest walks away with a gift bag, he added.

This year, Loverde said he expects about 175 attendees, most of whom will begin arriving at Spring Grove's cafe at about 6 p.m.

With 25 turkeys, he said the goal is to not have any leftovers.

A few miles away, Catonsville Emergency Assistance, the organization on Bloomsbury Avenue formerly known as Catonsville Emergency Food Ministry, is taking a different approach to helping local residents access a Thanksgiving meal.

The group changed its name at the start of this month to better reflect its mission, said Megan Murduck, executive director of the organization.

In addition to providing food for those who meet certain income requirements in the greater Catonsville area, they also help with utilities and eviction prevention, she said.

Late fall, with its multiple holidays and drop in temperatures, kicks off CEA's busiest time of the year, Murduck said.

In years past, the group has handed out bags of Thanksgiving food on the day prior to Thanksgiving.

This year, they are distributing the holiday food along with clients' regular food portions, Murduck said.

The move is aimed at helping clients more easily access the food, Murduck said.

In the past, it has difficult for some to get to the food pantry in time to pick up their holiday food, she said. Now, they'll have stuffing, cranberry sauce, pie and an extra share of their choice of frozen meat included with their regular food.

"Transportation is a real issue" for many clients, Murduck said. "It's just more smooth and convenient and streamlined for people."

There is a serious need for assistance in the Catonsville area, she said, but many of the families struggling to pay their bills still try to provide a holiday experience for their children. In the past, Murduck said, she has heard of parents going into debt trying to provide gifts for their children at Christmas.

"I see people who haven't eaten in three days, who have been living in the Saint Tim's dugout," she said, referring to the structure on the ball field of the former St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Ingleside Ave, a few blocks from CEA.

But the ability to provide some of the clients with the ingredients necessary to have a large family meal, she said, can be just as important as the other work the group does.

"It's a really powerful thing," she said.

Once Thanksgiving passes, the group's main concern becomes Christmas, Murduck said.

They are currently accepting toy donations to stock the annual toy shop, held Dec. 16. There, she said, parents can shop for the items they'd like to take home for free to give as gifts to their kids.

For information about the CEA, go to catonsvillehelp.org or call 410-747-4357.

For information about the Loverde Family Community Fund, go to lfcfund.org.

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