Spaghetti and big feasts seem to go together — but how often do you get the chance to share pasta with hundreds of folks in the same evening?
Volunteers in Elmira’s St. Anthony/St. Patrick Cluster were at their hospitable best on Thursday, May 20, serving some 602 dinners for the parish’s Free Spaghetti Supper. The 17th annual event was held in the parish hall at St. Anthony’s.
According to Elaine Chamberlin, supper chairperson, the final food count totaled out at 125 pounds of spaghetti; more than five cases of industrial-size sauce cans; 20 pounds of grated cheese; 40 pounds of beef; and 20 pounds of sausage. Dinner also included Italian bread; brownies and cookies; and soda and coffee.
“That was awesome. We had take-out dinners and second servings — some of them, they wanted thirds, and there was plenty for everybody,” said Lilo Merritt, who, along with Judy DePrimo, coordinated the supper’s volunteers.
Parishioners and non-parishioners flocked to the hall, including an especially big rush right after the 5:30 p.m. Mass for Ascension Thursday. However, Chamberlin said that volunteers had anticipated the overflow and were able to keep traffic running smoothly.
“It was bedlam for awhile, but everybody knew what they were doing,” Chamberlin remarked.
The Free Spaghetti Supper’s large crowd was the result of a strong publicity push, observed Father Walter Wainwright, pastor of St. Anthony/St. Patrick. “All over the city they put out flyers, in stores and in the churches,” he said.
“There were a lot of people putting out the word. It’s all by word of mouth and advertising,” Merritt added.
The spirit of welcoming was evident once dinner-goers arrived at their destination. “Parishioners were excellent greeting the people, making them feel welcome — really doing their social-ministry work,” Merritt said.
In all more than 40 volunteers pitched in, performing such tasks as set up, serving, greeting of guests, cooking and clean up (extra uncooked food items were brought to the parish food pantry located at St. Patrick’s.) Another commendable act of generosity is that parishioners donated food, supplies and cash — thus avoiding the need to charge a fee for each dinner. In fact, special collection envelopes are put out each year in the weeks prior to the supper.
Although St. Anthony’s has a largely Italian parishioner background and St. Patrick’s is Irish, the Free Spaghetti Supper actually began as an initiative of St. Patrick’s in 1988 and moved to St. Anthony’s not long after the two parishes were clustered in 1994. Bob Lagonegro, a longtime volunteer, explained that St. Anthony’s had a better facility to handle the supper’s growing popularity, and that St. Anthony’s Italian influence certainly didn’t hurt when it came to preparing pasta and sauce.
Chamberlin and Lagonegro noted that the dinner has expanded its scope as the years have gone on. “It started out as strictly a dinner for the poor, and we gradually changed it to a dinner for everybody who wanted to come. That was nice — you had a lawyer sitting next to a homeless person. It did create a community of people,” said Lagonegro, who — along with his wife Maggie, the former volunteer coordinator — has been involved with the supper from its inception. The Lagonegros assisted May 20 as well.
Merritt agreed that no distinction is made between religious status or income level. “The focus is socializing in a community,” she said. “Everybody is welcome; it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Even so, Chamberlin said that care of the underprivileged will always be the Free Spaghetti Supper’s leading priority.
“God has blessed us abundantly and we want to share this with others,” she said. “Every now and then you will get a father and mother who say, ‘We never get to go out to supper.'”