One small church, five volunteers, 800 meals a week

Cars line up around the block for Wesley UMC's to-go meals.

April 28, 2020

One small church of fewer than 20 members, plus a cooking crew of five volunteers is adding up to some 800 meals a week for the community.

Wesley United Methodist Church in East Windsor, CT, and Pauline’s Stockpot Kitchen have been in partnership since the 1990s. The church houses the operation and pays the overhead costs. Pauline’s provides the volunteers.

Together they had been serving a community dinner to about 70-80 people each Friday.

Then COVID-19 hit. The dinner was cancelled, but that’s when things got cooking. Now they are running three days a week and serving 10 times as many meals – to go, of course.
The church is serving 800 meals a week
“We jumped into full gear and opened our hours and opened our resources,” said Angelo DiMauro, who has been volunteer coordinator for three years. 

Folks come in their cars and get meals as well as whatever supplemental items the ministry has gathered that week, such as canned soup or peanut butter.

DiMauro agrees it’s a lot of work for a small crew (two cook and the others do the packaging and serving), but having fewer people involved lessens the risk of exposure and infection. 

Along with Wesley’s support, the feeding ministry is resourced by Foodshare, the regional food bank serving Connecticut’s Hartford and Tolland counties.

“I’m proud of our team and what we’re accomplishing,” DiMauro said.

And he’s clear that this is Wesley UMC’s ministry and they deserve the credit.

“This is all due to the Wesley UMC,” DiMauro said. “They have such a beautiful property, and they share it with us.

Their congregation has gotten older; they can’t really do this kind of work. The volunteers and I belong to different churches, but it’s not about that. It’s about the Wesley UMC continuing their wonderful gesture of feeding their neighbors. [It’s] so generous and we’re so humbled to be able to do this through them.”

Rev. Ricki Aiello is the pastor at Wesley. The impressive feeding ministry including the meal service, collection of food items, and cleaning has the church open six days a week. 

“It’s a family operation, and the family just gets bigger and bigger,” she said. 

While the church is incurring more costs (the to-go containers cost about $200 a week), congregation members, even those who raised concerns about the cost of operating the weekly meal, are stepping up in this time of crisis. 

“People, even the naysayers, have become cheerleaders; they’re thrilled with what’s happening, and these are the money people,” Rev. Aiello said. “They’re supporting the ministry.”

She says DiMauro has a large network and impressive ability to get the resources he needs. For example, the local Masons donated $6,000 for a commercial grade range/convection oven and to pay for adding a gas line to the church’s kitchen.

"I have never seen anything like it in my life … Angelo has a way of drawing money and resources like crazy. He’s quite a miracle man,” Rev. Aiello said. 

And that network is also used to redistribute any resources Wesley can’t use to ensure that nothing goes to waste.

For example, they recently took in a donation of 500 pints of whipping cream, much more than could be used at Wesley. 

“He'll take it,” Rev. Aiello said of DiMauro, and “he gets it out there to various other towns that need the food. They know to call him.”

But plenty of that food gets used right at the church. Cars line up around the block every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to get fresh, hot meals; chicken legs, goulash, even ribs have been on the menu, along with a little something extra: dinner music.

Rev. Aiello said, “I invited a guitarist to come and play outside. If I know the words, I join him. Lou’s been very generous with his time and talent.”

It recalls some of the feeling of that Friday community meal, which also featured music, Rev. Aiello said.

Among those in line are Angel and David Crane. The Cranes deliver meals to three people who cannot come to the church themselves. 

Angel Crane said she was so amazed by the ministry she wanted to share the story. 

“What we thought was incredibly impressive is they’re obviously reach far beyond their own congregation,” she said. “They’re going above and beyond, reaching into the community at large during a horrific crisis.”

Crane said she felt that this small church deserved some attention, not only to thank them, but to perhaps help attract support and resources, and most importantly to be a teaching example.

“I am a very big advocate for [highlighting] people who are wonderful examples of who the Christian community is,” Crane said. “By example we teach others. ... What makes us Christians is not what we say, but what we do, and this group is amazing.”

DiMauro agrees Wesley UMC is a role model.

“It’s the true meaning of what church is and what good will is, and that’s what they taught me,” he said. “They’re not a wealthy church, and they’re opening their doors and absorbing these extra costs to feed their neighbors: amazing.”

But, DiMauro said, it’s he and other volunteers who on the receiving end of this ministry.

“It’s a gift,” he said. “We say, ‘What did we do to be so blessed to be able to do this?’ It’s an amazing feeling, to feed somebody.”