Joe Mannetti at Work Out World in New London, CT (Ocean Beach Park)
Joe Mannetti at Work Out World in New London, CT (Ocean Beach Park)

The holidays can be a time for celebrating with family and friends. It is a time when many people exchange gifts and enjoy holiday meals together. But, for those who donít have families to celebrate with or who cannot afford gifts or even a decent meal, the holidays can be a devastating reminder of all that is perceived as wrong with their lives. This time of year is tragically lonely and devoid of hope for the homeless, individuals suffering with mental illness, or those who have lost loved ones. The holiday season can be a trigger for anyone who has no sense of a connection to all of the things that make this time of year so positive for so many others.

My name is Joe Mannetti. I work as a mental health counselor on the in-patient psychiatric unit (Pond House 4) at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. I also work at a health club, Work Out World, located in Ocean Beach Park. Both of my jobs allow me to work with people in the New London communities, and I am lucky to know them. This year was filled with tragedy for so many people. The feelings of helplessness and loss were overwhelming. So, I decided to organize a volunteer food drive that would allow the people I work with and me to give back and do something positive for those who might otherwise go without a meal over the holidays. I approached the owners at Work Out World about the idea, and they approved and supported it immediately. Within a little over one week, the members at the New London club where I work donated several large box loads of canned food goods to distribute to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center located on 374 Broad Street in New London, CT. I am proud of the people who made this happen. They made a difference. The members at the New London club include individuals who work for the New London Fire Department, the New London Police Department, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Connecticut Lyric Opera, teachers, as well as others who have lived in the area for years. They are as diverse as the communities that make up New London, and their spirit of goodwill was the greatest gift to others.

I lost my father, Paul Devendittis, this year. This was my first holiday without him. Being involved with this food drive helped distract me from my own feelings of sadness, and it allowed me to feel empowered by doing something positive with others for others. My special thanks to the members who donated all of the canned food, Gemma Moranís driver Melvin Tuggle, who also runs The Only Way Lawn Service, for coming right to our front door to pick up the boxes loaded with all of the food that was collected, to Work Out World for supporting this food drive, and to the Gemma Moran United Way Labor Food Center for everything that they do for people in need of food for a decent meal in our local communities.

Most of all, thank you, New London.