Around Thanksgiving, volunteers commit to keeping others fed

Asya Hamo, left, of Norwich, a former resident of Aleppo, Syria, volunteers with her husband Abdo Hamo, right, during the annual Thanksgiving dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. The family has resided in Norwich for 14 months. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Asya Hamo, left, of Norwich, a former resident of Aleppo, Syria, volunteers with her husband Abdo Hamo, right, during the annual Thanksgiving dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. The family has resided in Norwich for 14 months. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Nancy Meitzler parks her car, takes her hands off the Betty Boop steering wheel cover and eyes a sheet of paper with names, addresses and delivery instructions for her Norwich route. A tag reading "TVCCA Meals on Wheels volunteer" hangs from her rearview mirror, in front of a charm she brought back from a trip to China.

At Village Court, she delivers two meals and then visits a man to whom she previously delivered food, before his program changed meal providers. He likes to tease her, and she jabs him playfully on the arm. At Summitwoods, she holds Noah, a tiny dog who loves her visits.

Meitzler is 92, and she has been a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels, through Thames Valley Council for Community Action, for 18 years.

"Don't sit down," she advises. "You sit down, you get old."

With her deliveries on Wednesday, she gave out pink sheets to clients notifying them that there would be no deliveries on Nov. 23 or 24, due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Those meals were delivered earlier in the week.

On Thanksgiving Day itself, volunteers at other social services agencies and churches dedicate morning and afternoon hours to make sure people are fed.

Killingly resident Richard Fedor, 70, has been volunteering on Thanksgiving at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich for eight years. He usually washes pots and pans, but after having open-heart surgery, his roles this year are less strenuous, like cutting rolls and handing out trays of meat and cheese.

Abdo and Asya Hamo, who emigrated from Syria 14 months ago, came to volunteer after working Thursday morning for a company that cleans rest stops. Abdo said the American people have helped his family and he wants to help them in return.

The menu at St. Vincent de Paul Place this year included turkey (340 pounds of it), gravy, baked potato casserole, spiralized sweet potatoes with maple and walnut glaze, stuffing, green beans almondine, glazed carrots, jalapeno poppers and meatball poppers.

John Mrakovcich started volunteering in the kitchen after his wife broke her arm. He was driving her around, and one of the places to which she needed a ride was St. Vincent de Paul Place, where she already had been volunteering. He now volunteers every Saturday.

This Thanksgiving he brought his 21-year-old son, Dominic, who was home from UMass Amherst.

"I think it's really important for the community," Dominic Mrakovcich said. "It's important to sacrifice a little bit of your time."

Jillian Corbin, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Place, estimated she got about 50 volunteers and said they usually serve about 200 meals in-house, plus 77 deliveries.

St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Mystic had its Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m.

Waterford resident Anthony Stone, 13, started volunteering with his grandmother at St. Mark's five years ago. Sometimes he makes cranberry sauce, and sometimes he serves.

Some perennial volunteers make the same thing every year: Karen Sheffield is the gravy lady, and Dan Hall is the turkey man.

Hall, 75, recalls that volunteers used to make turkey soup to send to a soup kitchen but stopped because of food safety concerns. He still puts together bags of turkey carcasses for people who want to make soup.

Asked how long he has been volunteering on Thanksgiving, Hall replies, "When did they make dirt?" before clarifying that it's been since the 1980s.

e.moser@theday.com

Volunteer Patty Sullivan of Guilford assists an attendee during the annual Thanksgiving dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Volunteer Patty Sullivan of Guilford assists an attendee during the annual Thanksgiving dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Volunteer Nancy Meitzler puts together a bag of food on her Meals on Wheels delivery route in Norwich on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (Erica Moser/The Day)
Volunteer Nancy Meitzler puts together a bag of food on her Meals on Wheels delivery route in Norwich on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (Erica Moser/The Day)

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