By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Dec. 6, 2018) Organizers of the third annual “Artists Giving Back” last Tuesday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Berlin said the event was about more than filling a few hundred empty stomachs with free meals.
The larger impact, organizers said, was breaking down barriers – both social and geographic – that still exist in the community.
Robin Tomaselli, from the Berlin Arts and Entertainment Committee, the sponsoring organization, said it appeared volunteers surpassed the 250 meals disturbed last year.
Additionally, Tomaselli said about 20 more meals were delivered to homebound people by Police Chief Arnold Downing and others. Any leftovers were donated to the West Ocean City shelter and services provider Diakonia,
“There were more people [than last year] that ended up dining in over at the church,” Tomaselli said. “We switched the times a little bit this year, so it was offered a little bit later, more like dinnertime, so there were a lot of people that enjoyed their meal inside the hall there at St. Paul.”
Members of the St. Paul Men’s Ministry helped to prepare the meals, while participants of local Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services programs volunteered as servers. Arts and Entertainment Committee members and others also volunteered behind the scenes, and local businesses donated much of the food.
“The men’s ministry ended up preparing all of the proteins and the gravy and the grains that were donated, and that’s a huge help to us,” Tomaselli said. “In addition to that, the restaurants this year realty exceeded all expectations. They increased the amount of food they provided, so we had more food to offer than we had last year and were able, again, to provide Diakonia with some really amazing food for the people that they serve. Overall, I think it was just an amazing event.”
She also praised the volunteers from Worcester Youth.
“Seeing how proud the kids who came to serve were and how committed they were to do a good job serving, it’s just something that’s priceless,” Tomaselli said. “You have children in this community who don’t have easy lives, that come together and are so excited about serving people in their community.
“Seeing people of all different shapes and sizes and colors and religious backgrounds just coming together to share nothing but fellowship and a meal – that, particularly in this day and age, is just so amazing,” she added.
Outside of the church, Mike Wiley and John Holloway helped Downing to deliver meals to several dozen shut-ins.
Downing said they made two separate runs and distributed 60 platters.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “All the folks were very happy and some where surprised. You’re talking about some warm responses.”
Downing also highlighted the partnerships, from the children and teens from Worcester Youth learning about service to others, to the local businesspeople who donated items and the artists that contributed their time.
“It’s a situation where people who don’t work [so closely] every day have an opportunity to come together,” he said. “We see each other and we greet each other, but this was an opportunity to work toward one mission and work toward one end, and it was wonderful.”
Patrick Henry, a member of the men’s ministry and the arts and entertainment committee, was approached three years ago about hosting the event at St. Paul’s Church. He and his wife, Velda, are also church hospitality ministers and both helped last Tuesday.
“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are truly in need that we’re not even aware of.
“If people knew about how many homeless people were around here, it would blow your mind,” Henry continued. “And we have seniors with fixed incomes and just financially challenged people that, who knows what they had for Thanksgiving?”
As the event has grown each year, so have the number of people involved, Henry said, with more businesses pledging help and more volunteers coming to run the event.
“More and more, the sense of gratitude is being expressed,” he said. “I could hear people coming up to the serving window between the kitchen and the dining room saying, ‘we just thank you so much for doing this.’
“I felt fellowship – it’s more than just having food,” Henry continued. “It’s the people that work together that usually aren’t in each other’s environment, and you get an appreciation for how they go about doing things. And then, the people that come there see a broad cross-section of people that are serving and I think it just breaks down preconceptions.”
That’s good for all of Berlin, he added.
“I’ve always felt that [Route] 113 was like the Berlin Wall – it’s a psychological, historical wall, and we’re slowly chipping away and bringing the total facet of Berlin and the broad community together,” Henry said.