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Congregation pools resources to feed hungry for a week

Eighty pounds of chicken. Fifty pounds of beef. One hundred pounds of pasta.

Those are a few of the ingredients layered into large rectangle tins Sunday afternoon during a marathon casserole-building frenzy.

Dubbed Holy Casseroley, the event drew dozens of members of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills and their friends who wanted to help a group of people most will never meet. The volunteers assembled 1,250 casseroles, enough to feed visitors to the soup kitchen at Paul's Place in Washington Village/Pigtown for a week.

"At the soup kitchen, the hardest-working people are in the kitchen," said Arleen Shepherd, the congregant who organized the event. "We wanted to give them a break."

Menu items included chicken tetrazzini, beefaroni, spaghetti, chicken and rice and lasagna. The dishes were slated to go to Paul's Place freezers Monday morning for use during the next five days.

Leading up to the event, Shepherd tested 24 recipes on her family, including husband Shep, 12-year-old son Blake and 18-year-old daughter Luci. They converted the recipes they liked best to restaurant size. Then they spent days cooking all the parts in their house so volunteers would only have to assemble them.

About 100 congregants, or a quarter of the congregation, donated money or food during the month of October toward the project — or offered their time Sunday.

Olivia Sands, 11, and Jacob Waxman, 12, both gave up time with friends or family because they wanted to help.

"It sounded fun," said Olivia, who wore a white plastic apron and gloves as she mixed rice and chicken and soup with a large spoon. "And I wanted to help."

"This is more fun" than other things he could be doing, Jacob added.

The space at Har Sinai was set up into five stations for each of the casseroles, and another station was placed in the middle to wrap and label the trays for freezing. It took the volunteers an hour and a half, an hour less than scheduled, to complete the task.

That meant Jayna Powell, Paul's Place volunteer coordinator, didn't even make it to the event before the workers were done.

She said the casseroles would feed at least 250 people a day. Workers there will match entrees with a vegetable, salad, desert or fruit and drink.

She said 75 percent of food is donated by groceries, individuals and other congregations to Paul's Place, which also offers job assistance, computer training, clothes and other aid in a community that has a definite need – more than 80 percent of children qualify for free or reduced price lunch and at least 25 percent of families live under the poverty line, Powell said.

Others have also been generous, she said. Some congregations have donated six to 12 casseroles every month for 30 years. But only one other time has a congregation, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, donated enough entrees for a week, and that was after she told them of Shepherd's plan and they thought it was a good idea. Shepherd said she borrowed the idea from friend Molly Shattuck, a former Ravens cheerleader who works with United Way.

Powell said the cook at Paul's Place's will be able to use her saved time to plan for Thanksgiving.

"People think they can't change the world, there is too much need," Powell said. "But guess what? In an hour and a half these people who are faithful and wanted to help have fed more than 1,000 people a meal. That's huge."

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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