ROCHESTER — The tables were set with disposable plates, cups and napkins.
The neighbors and parishioners had arrived. Catholic Charities Community Services residents, staff and board members and Holy Apostles parishioners had gathered to serve them.
Most importantly, smells of roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy floated enticingly through the hallways of Holy Apostles’ Urban Center.
But before the group dug into the hot meal Nov. 27, Deacon Dick Lombard led them in prayer.
“Thank you for all the gifts you have given us: food, family, friends and the gift of Jesus,” Deacon Lombard said. “Let us remember all of those who are hungry, who are lonely, and all of those who go out of their way to help.”
The deacon wore a name tag that read “Rose Marie’s husband,” a nod to the fact that his wife, Rose Marie Lombard, is one of the organizers of the Urban Center’s free dinners, which are served to all who show up on the last Tuesday of nearly every month.
The free dinners, called Neighbors Gather, have become a tradition in the area, his wife said.
“The whole idea is for people in the neighborhood to gather with parishioners,” said Rose Marie Lombard, who is the social-ministry coordinator at Holy Apostles. “Anybody who wants to come can join us.”
She said the November dinner is special because residents of Catholic Charities Community Service’s Tryon Park Individualized Residential Alternative, a group home for developmentally disabled individuals, made the dinner and served it. The connection with Tryon Park came about four years ago because Rose Marie Lombard’s nephew, Matthew Livernash, is a member of Catholic Charities Community Services’ board of directors.
“I said, ‘Let’s get some people together, and we’ll do a Thanksgiving dinner,” recalled Livernash, who serves as vice chairman of the board.
Rose Marie Lombard noted it’s difficult to plan ahead for the dinners, but that there is always enough food.
“Sometimes we have 80, and sometimes we have 30,” she said.
This year, Leo’s Bakery donated many pies for the meal, and Wegmans donated the turkeys, Livernash said. Cheryl Shepard, a program supervisor with Catholic Charities Community Services, said 20 boxes of stuffing and 20 bags of corn also went into the dinner.
“We just cook and have a good time,” Shepard said.
She noted many of Tryon Park’s chefs work full time in the bakery at Henrietta’s School of the Holy Childhood, which has a culinary vocational program for people with disabilities.
Members of the board of Catholic Charities Community Services began volunteering with the Tryon Park group as one way to connect with the three populations Catholic Charities Community Services serves: people with developmental disabilities, AIDS and traumatic brain injuries, said Todd Gunther, chairman of the board.
“It’s a great message that we help everybody,” Gunther said.
Reviews of the food were very positive.
“I think it’s very nice for them to do this,” said area resident Cornelius McCracken. “It’s very good.”
The meal also won good reviews from Cindy Brown and her neighbor, 9-year-old Star Camacho, who attend the dinners regularly.
“I think it’s really good,” Brown said.
“I think it’s excellent,” Star said. “I want to go find out who made it.”
Even Guy Nichols of Rochester, who doesn’t like turkey, said he was satisfied.
“I filled up a cup of Jell-O,” he said.