Serving up smiles: Rider helps feed homeless

By Shanna O’Mara

Jake Bender (left) and Nick Payesko, from the baseball team, help serve over 400 Thanksgiving-style lunches to those afflicted by poverty in Trenton on Nov. 21  at the Saint Mary of the Assumption Cathedral. Over 70 Rider students volunteered for the event.
Jake Bender (left) and Nick Payesko, from the baseball team, help serve over 400 Thanksgiving-style lunches to those afflicted by poverty in Trenton on Nov. 21 at the Saint Mary of the Assumption Cathedral. Over 70 Rider students volunteered for the event.

More than 70 members of the cranberry community traveled this year to St. Mary’s in Trenton to serve the less fortunate.

For the past 20 years, Rider has been contributing to this generous community event alongside the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen Program at Saint Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.

“We have about 30 members of the Rider baseball team,” said Joan Liptrot, assistant director of campus life for service learning. “Coach [Barry] Davis and his guys got here early this morning, around 9 a.m., to help set up the tables and everything. We have a few commuters who came here on their own, and on the bus, we brought 32 students and some staff from Rider, so we probably have at least 70 members of the Rider community serving here today. It was open to anyone who wanted to come.”

Students from various organizations worked together to serve those afflicted by poverty in the city. Volunteers served food and drinks, cleaned up after meals, mingled with guests and gave parting gifts at the end of the day. Those who attended the event on Nov. 21 left with a bagged lunch. Many also received a hygiene kit, containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, razor, socks and sanitary pads for women.

Sophomore finance major Nick Margevicius and junior finance major Brian Uliana are two members of the baseball team who volunteered to help prepare food before the lunch rush.

“It looks good for the program when you get to help out the community,” Uliana said. “Just doing stuff like this to help out people in need, especially around Thanksgiving, is the least we can do on a Saturday morning.”

Davis inherited this tradition of volunteering around the holidays when he obtained his position at Rider in 2004.

“The previous coach always did this,” Davis said. “This is my 12th year, so it’s been 12 straight years for me. It’s part of our program. I think it’s good for the guys to do this. It’s a good experience, and it’s minimal time for them, only two hours. All of the players are here but not at one time. There was a group here this morning. They helped to set up, and they served breakfast. The bigger group is helping with lunch, then some others will come for clean up afterwards.”

Sophomore education major Ilian Irving volunteered at the church with her mother. Both believe in the importance of charity work, especially around the holidays.

“I wanted to give back this week,” Irving said. “My family doesn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving because we wanted to give back, so we’re donating to the Native American reservations and helping out here. We’re trying to do more giving-type things because my mom, sister and I are all interested in history, so we feel bad about the action we celebrate Thanksgiving for, so we try to do more positive things for this holiday. Also, my birthday is on Nov. 30, so this is leading up to it — doing all of these volunteer events.”

Sophomore psychology major Starlett Hartley and sophomore business administration major John Olear heard about the event through the university’s emails and deemed it necessary to lend a helping hand.

“We just wanted to help out and volunteer,” Hartley said. “I saw the email and thought it was really cool. I thought it was awesome that they provide transportation and everything. They made it so easy to help out for just a few hours in the morning. We are going to talk a little bit, mingle and lift some spirits, get some good food in everyone for the day.”

The simplified logistics removed any reason not to attend, according to Olear.

“Helping other people makes you feel good before the holidays,” he said. “They need help more than us, so it’s just a good thing, a good day.”

Good days like these can be few and far between for poverty-stricken residents in Trenton and around the world, as many are left to fend for themselves on the streets. Social events and warm meals give people the chance to get to know neighbors they may have otherwise walked past without a second glance, organizers said.

“Our dinner guests have a lot of time in their lives when they’re ignored, and there’s not a lot of eye contact,” event coordinator Barbara Anne Cagney said. “There’s not a lot of smiles. There’s not a lot of openness to who they are. This is a wonderful place for them to have that experience. They keep coming, the sponsoring groups keep coming, the food is delicious, and the openness is what makes this all that it is. The hospitality is what this is about.”

Volunteers from St. Mary’s Cathedral have been hosting group meals for the poor twice a month for nearly 40 years, according to Cagney.

In 1978, a woman named Sharon Waters saw the efforts to help the poor in New York City and vowed to bring the same type of “dining room hospitality” to her home city of Trenton. With help from a coworker’s prayer group, the pastor of the local Methodist Church and the Trenton Roman Catholic Church’s living room Bible study group, “they put some turkey together and went on the street to invite people to come eat with them, no questions asked,” Cagney said.

Cagney began working with this organization in the late 1980s, when the meals, provided by Aramark, moved from the streets to the cathedral on North Warren Street.

“At my first experience, they served eggplant parmesan,” she said. “I was delivering it to a gentleman of the street. He was very happy to be getting his ‘veal’ parmesan. That’s how good the food was — he thought eggplant was veal. That prayer group still serves meals throughout the year. We’re here the last two Saturdays of every month, and we still believe in the hospitality and no questions asked. We really encourage volunteers to put their judgment in their back pocket.”

Additional reporting by Julia Corrigan

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