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Volunteers with the Loverde Family Community Fund serve dinner on Thanksgiving Eve in November 2018 to residents of the Westside Men's Shelter in Catonsville. (Courtesy of Joe Loverde)
Volunteers with the Loverde Family Community Fund serve dinner on Thanksgiving Eve in November 2018 to residents of the Westside Men's Shelter in Catonsville. (Courtesy of Joe Loverde) (Baltimore Sun)

Each year since 2011, Josie Schroeter and Sal Schittino have prepped for two Thanksgiving dinners — one for family, and one for more than 150 men.

Using traditional family recipes, the sister and brother, co-owners of Scittino’s Italian Market Place on Edmondson Avenue, spend roughly 20 hours and enlist a seven-member crew to deliver a Thanksgiving feast during the Loverde Family Community Fund’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for men staying at the Westside Men’s Shelter in Catonsville.

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“It’s become part of our holiday,” Schroeter said.

The pair were recruited by Catonsville real estate brokers Joe Loverde and his wife, Cindy, who have organized and run the annual dinner for the shelter since 2007.

Through the Loverde Family Community Fund, the married couple, who live in Catonsville, serve hot meals during Thanksgiving, with all the fixings, to those who might otherwise not enjoy one.

“It’s a little respite, I think, from the everyday struggle,” Cindy Loverde said.

Cindy Loverde and her husband Joe stand in their Realty Concepts Inc. office on Frederick Road on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Cindy Loverde and her husband Joe stand in their Realty Concepts Inc. office on Frederick Road on Wednesday, Nov. 13. (Taylor DeVille / Baltimore Sun)

The dinner and festivities haven’t changed much in its 13 years, Joe said. The menu features classic Thanksgiving Day fare, Santa Claus (played by Catonsville resident Rick Smith) continues to deliver gift bags to dinner guests, and the same musicians — including two members from the Anne Arundel band The Van Dykes, a local favorite, Joe said — still play classic rock and holiday melodies.

Shelter residents “sing along, they clap, they have a good time.” Cindy said. “They really do enjoy it.”

The volunteers — of which the Loverdes have no shortage — have also remained the same.

“The majority of the volunteers here this year have been coming back for 13 years,” Joe Loverde said. “We have more volunteers than we need.”

Loverde Family Community Fund volunteer Jo Ann Liberto dances during the nonprofit's annual Thanksgiving dinner at Westside Men's Shelter in 2018. (Courtesy of Joe Loverde)
Loverde Family Community Fund volunteer Jo Ann Liberto dances during the nonprofit's annual Thanksgiving dinner at Westside Men's Shelter in 2018. (Courtesy of Joe Loverde) (Baltimore Sun)

This will be the fourth consecutive dinner held at the Westside shelter at the Spring Grove Hospital Center; the event has migrated from the Thomas-Rice Auditorium on the hospital campus, where it was held back when Westside consisted of discrete trailers tucked away on the hospital campus, Joe Loverde said.

The new shelter was built in 2015 and has hosted the dinner since 2017. Between 2012 and 2017, it was held at the Café on the Grove, he said.

On Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, Nov. 27, just over 30 volunteers will serve a full menu to those staying at the shelter.

Along with about a dozen carved, 18-pound turkeys, Schroeter and Schittino are making from scratch 15 pounds of mashed potatoes, five large hotel pans of dressing, three gallons of gravy, cranberry sauce, 100 pounds of green bean casserole and 16 pumpkin and apple pies at a total cost of $1,500, paid through the community fund, Schroeter said. The fund is supported by donations from individuals and businesses throughout the year.

Sal Schittino and his sister Josie Schroeter pose for a picture behind the counter at their 43-year-old restaurant Scittino's Italian Market Place on a recent day. The couple prepares the Thanksgiving meal that is served to homeless men in Catonsville.
Sal Schittino and his sister Josie Schroeter pose for a picture behind the counter at their 43-year-old restaurant Scittino's Italian Market Place on a recent day. The couple prepares the Thanksgiving meal that is served to homeless men in Catonsville. (Taylor DeVille / Baltimore Sun)

They started prepping the food in the Scittino’s kitchen last week, Schroeter said; on some mornings, the pair will come in at 6 a.m., three hours before they open, to make sure the food for the shelter is ready in time.

“We cook ‘em, carve ‘em and plate everything up; we put ‘em in trays and then we bring it all over” to the shelter, Schroeter said.

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Between prepping traditional Thanksgiving food for Scittino’s customers at their 43-year-old location, her own family and the Westside residents, “it’s a balancing act,” Schroeter said.

While the faces that volunteers see change each year, they are serving more homeless folks than they did at the dinner’s outset, said Joe Loverde, who with Cindy runs Realty Concepts Inc. in Catonsville.

“This year, I think, will be the biggest, because there’s more residents now,” he said.

The shelter is “at capacity.”

The Westside shelter — along with the county’s Eastside Men’s Shelter, both managed by the nonprofit Community Assistance Network — holds 154 beds.

According to Baltimore County’s Homeless Management Information System, the county has homeless individuals. At the shelter, the faith-based nonprofit Lazarus Caucus provides assistance to individuals, helping them fill out resumes and find housing rentals, among other services.

The Loverdes have partnered with the West Baltimore United Methodist Church for the past five years to put together gift bags containing socks, beanies, scarves and candy for dinner guests

The dinner costs around $5,000 to put on annually, Joe Loverde said, and is funded through donations throughout the year.

“We don’t ask for big amounts, but we do get big amounts” for the nonprofit’s main initiative, with donations averaging around $100 to $200, he said.

“It seems trite,” said volunteer Bob Greenbelt, but “it’s a chance to help these people out,” and to “bring a little joy to their worlds.

“These folks are really in desperate straits,” he said.

Joe credits Greenbelt, who introduced him to volunteering at Westside, with the dinner’s inception.

After he volunteered serving food at the shelter a few times, "I thought, ‘I would like to do this myself,’” Joe said.

The following year, the Loverdes established the family community fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, to support the yearly dinner.

Greenbelt has volunteered to run coffee and plate up dishes on the food line, but, like other volunteers, assists in myriad roles, primarily as a server.

“Three hundred sixty-four days a year, they have to wait in the line … in the cafeteria,” Joe Loverde said of shelter residents. During the dinner, they are served at their tables, he said.

For Joe, the annual dinner brings back recollections of his own childhood.

“I was very poor growing up,” he said. His father, a roofer, “would have to seek part-time work [in the winter] just to keep the wood burning.”

As Loverde greets arriving guests and coordinates volunteers during the dinner, “it definitely comes to mind,” he said.

Those who wish to donate to the fund or Westside shelter can go to http://lfcfund.org/how-to-donate/ for more information.

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