Volunteers spread joy to those who need it

Volunteer Jo-Ann Marquis of Norwich hugs Robert Tetreault after announcing that it is Tetreault's 70th birthday during the Christmas dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich Tuesday.
Dana Jensen/The Day Volunteer Jo-Ann Marquis of Norwich hugs Robert Tetreault after announcing that it is Tetreault's 70th birthday during the Christmas dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich Tuesday.

Norwich — Voices singing "Silent Night" filled St. Vincent de Paul Place Tuesday, as residents celebrated with family and friends before sitting down for a Christmas meal.

So many people gathered for the late-morning dinner that the staff brought out extra table settings to accommodate the more than 100 guests.

The annual Christmas tradition at St. Vincent de Paul Place continued this holiday despite an eventful year and uncertainty over where the meal would be held next year.

The nonprofit organization, which provides social services and meals, moved in July to the former St. Joseph School on Cliff Street because its building needed repairs. But earlier this month, the city's planning commission denied a permit to allow the organization to remain there past January, following public hearings in which residents said the center was disruptive to the neighborhood. The Diocese of Norwich plans to appeal the decision.

On Tuesday, volunteers dressed in red and green smiled and passed out meals. Some residents said the organization went beyond providing a meal.

Wayne Choser Jr. and his fiancee Catalina Lugo, both of Norwich, said they were enjoying their meals of roast beef, corn and green beans.

"It's a very calming atmosphere," said Choser of the dinner. "People aren't here because they have to be. They're here because they want to be."

The couple said St. Vincent de Paul Place and director Jill Corbin helped them during the holiday season by providing bus tickets so that Choser could visit his father in the hospital. The group also bought presents for Lugo's children, since she was laid off from her job last week.

Another resident, Susan Bogan of Norwich, who won a blanket in a raffle held at the event, also praised the staff and those with whom she was enjoying a meal.

"I'm meeting new people and making friends," she said. "You meet nice people here."

Thirty-five volunteers set up and served the meals to the guests. One of them, Rosemary Mingoia of Lisbon, wanted to spend her day off volunteering after hearing about the program from friends.

"It's a good feeling," she said. "At the end of the day, you can just say, wow, that was a good thing to do."

St. Vincent de Paul Place, established in 1979, also operates a food pantry that provides meals for about thousands of families a year, said Corbin. Following the busy 11:30 a.m. meal, volunteers quickly set up new place settings for 100 more guests for a second meal, at 1 p.m.

Corbin said the annual Christmas dinners will continue no matter the location.

"What matters is what's inside," she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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