Weekly initiative in Watkins Glen offers food and fellowship - Catholic Courier
Two men sitting at a table.

Deacon Dan Pavlina (left) and Louis Cicconi sit down for a meal May 13 at the the Community Table in Watkins Glen. (Courier photo by Mike Latona)

Weekly initiative in Watkins Glen offers food and fellowship

WATKINS GLEN — There’s a place in town where, every Monday evening, you can catch a good meal at the best price possible — free.

Yet Community Table participants say the initiative’s biggest perk doesn’t involve one’s appetite or wallet. Rather, it’s the hospitality and companionship served up in abundance.

At a May 13 gathering, for instance, the Community Table’s amiable atmosphere was evident from the get-go. Several dozen volunteers and patrons silently formed a large circle to observe a pre-meal prayer, then spent the next hour filling Schuyler Catholic Community’s parish center with spirited conversation. This custom is repeated on Mondays throughout the year.

“We see people here we don’t get to see all the time. It’s a good name, a ‘Community Table,’” remarked Louis Cicconi, a regular patron who was one of more than 60 guests on May 13.

Weekly dinner at Schuyler County parish is offered all year long

Deacon Dan Pavlina, who founded the Community Table 10 years ago, said the dinners were started to aid impoverished residents of Schuyler and Yates counties — but with a spirit of inclusivity by welcoming people of all income levels.

“This is a good opportunity to say to the entire Watkins Glen, Odessa and Dundee area, ‘Hey, we’re here — come join us for a meal,’” Deacon Pavlina said.

Deacon Pavlina and his wife, Jeanne; Deacon Thomas Ruda; Brud Holland (the first chef); and David Bartone (who helped with finances) were among the Community Table’s key pioneers. Schuyler parishioners also stepped up through a special weekend-Mass collection when the initiative made its debut.

“I was hoping for maybe $200. But people went crazy and gave over $2,000,” Deacon Pavlina recalled, adding that financial support of the Community Table continues to this day through many patrons’ weekly free-will offerings.

Originally held on Tuesdays, the Community Table now takes place each Monday except on holidays. All dinners take place at the parish center — located on 10th Street, around the corner from St. Mary of the Lake Church — with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. and dinner served from 5 to 6 p.m.

Entertainment is occasionally offered, and when the Community Table falls on a fifth Monday — as will be the case this July 29 — the Knights of Columbus provides spaghetti and meatballs. In addition, a full Thanksgiving dinner is offered in November.

Since its inception, the only glitch in the Community Table’s operation was a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a lot of work getting started up again. We had to clean the place from top to bottom,” said Jim Specchio, who currently coordinates the dinners along with his wife, Helen. He added that weekly attendance has risen as of late, occasionally exceeding 70.

Focus is on fellowship at gatherings in Watkins Glen

Community Table menu items are supplied by Food Bank of the Southern Tier, an agency of diocesan Catholic Charities. Meals vary from week to week, with the May 13 fare featuring barbecued chicken, baked beans, macaroni salad, tossed salad and dessert.

Putting on a big dinner every week can be a daunting task, but it’s made possible by a dedicated fleet of Community Table volunteers who fill such roles as setting up, cooking, serving, greeting and cleaning up.

“They love doing this. Sometimes the cooks will buy food out of their own pockets,” Deacon Pavlina said.

The patrons — made up of both Catholics and non-Catholics — cherish their Community Table experiences as well, according to Specchio.

“Most of the people here are regulars. You get used to seeing them every week, talking with them, seeing what’s going on in their life. And when they don’t show up, we start asking questions,” said Specchio, who became coordinator last year when the Pavlinas relocated to the Rochester area to be closer to their grandchildren.

“Within this community, we’ve seen small communities form. People will sit together week to week,” Deacon Pavlina said.

Deacon Pavlina added that organizers occasionally help connect patrons in need with social-service outlets for such issues as hunger relief and counseling. However, he and Cicconi said most who attend are just looking for a bit of fellowship.

“A lot of older people come who maybe can’t get out so often, and this is good for them,” noted Cicconi, a St. Mary of the Lake member and former Community Table cook.

The Community Table remains important for Deacon Pavlina as well. Although he’s now assigned to Parish of the Holy Family in Gates, a suburb of Rochester, he and Jeanne — also a former staff member in the Schuyler cluster — still plan to attend the dinners on a semi-regular basis as they did May 13.

“These people have been my family, some of them for decades. It’s a great way to reconnect,” he said.

Tags: Deacons, Schuyler County News
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