St. Mark’s spreads love with Thanksgiving dinners
Mystic ― The holidays can be a difficult time for those with nowhere to go and no one to share a meal with.
That’s where St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mystic steps in.
The church has provided Thanksgiving dinners, both on-site and by delivery, for over 30 years to people who do not otherwise have a means for a holiday meal. No one knows exactly how many years the tradition has gone on for, but the volunteers know their help is needed every year.
First-year organizer Bryan Sardo ran the show this year after helping prepare the meals for the first time in 2021. He and his wife, Laura D’Agostino, were helping volunteers prepare boxes of food and made sure the operation ran smoothly.
“We’re here trying to provide a meal like anyone of us would eat and want to eat,” Sardo said Thursday morning. “There’s not skimping here.”
The church took calls prior to the holiday for people to request meals and to get an idea of how much food would be needed. Sardo said they received around 150 calls, but planned to have 180 meals for those who may show up at the church instead of calling for a delivered meal. They ended up preparing more than 190.
Volunteers arrived at the 15 Pearl St. parish in the early morning hours so that by 9 a.m. they could begin to pack food into boxes. All of the food was donated, including the 19 turkeys.
Assembly lines of volunteers first put together “cold trays” which consisted of a roll with butter, a slice of pie and cranberry sauce. The “hot trays” had to wait until the gravy was ready, but had the turkey, mashed white potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, mixed veggies, a scoop of stuffing, and topped off with gravy.
“It really is a nice way to spend the day,” said second-year volunteer Debbie Gigliuto from Groton, who was responsible for pouring ladles full of gravy on each meal.
Sardo said he was a bit nervous in the early planning phases as he was unsure of how many volunteers would sign up. Roughly 30 eventually signed up, including 14 drivers and others who showed up Thursday morning without notice. A large portion of the volunteers aren’t members of the church but are members of the local community looking to lend a helping hand.
“Everybody just kinda came out of the woodwork the last week, so it’s great,” Sardo said.
One volunteer, Margie Perrone of Waterford, has been involved for more than a decade. She started volunteering with her job at Chelsea Groton Bank before helping at St. Mark’s. Perrone got her husband, Anthony, involved nine years ago. Around the same time, her grandson, Anthony Stone, began helping out as well.
Her grandson is now a high school graduate. His 9-year-old brother, Ethan Stone, volunteered for the first time this year and is the same age as Anthony when he first started. Perrone said she takes her grandsons to toy drives and other food distribution events to show them how important it is to give back to the community.
“It’s just a good feeling. It’s just generosity. It’s just who we all should be,” Perrone said.
“This kind of stuff matters to people, and I think when you can, you should,” Anthony Stone said.
Once the Stone brothers were done scooping potatoes and stuffing onto plates, and Gigliuto topped each one off with gravy, they handed them to Anthony Perrone and first-year volunteer John Higgins pack into bags for delivery.
Higgins said he and is wife, who are not members of the church, decided to volunteer somewhere this Thanksgiving and learned of St. Mark’s tradition of handing out meals. Higgins, from Ledyard, said it felt good to put a smile on the faces of people who may have otherwise been forgotten on the holiday.
“You get to help people that are shut in and can’t get out,” Higgins said.
First-time volunteers Michele Patterson and Maggy Gilbert helped take meals on the final leg of their journey. They delivered seven meals around the Groton area, mostly to senior citizens.
“The more you give, I hate to say it, the more you get back,” Gilbert said. “It’s not why I give but it just keeps coming back at you.”
Gilbert recalled being in a position of need after breaking her leg some years ago. She said her church and another church brought her meals and made sure she had the transportation she needed. Now, she’s making sure others get the help they need.
“It just gave me such a wonderful feeling of being loved,” she recalled. “And to be able to give that to other people is a joy.”