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Volunteers feed hundreds in Berlin

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By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Dec. 7, 2017) More than 200 meals were provided to people in the Berlin area during the second annual “Artists Giving Back, a Holiday Meal for those in need,” presented last Tuesday by the Berlin Arts and Entertainment Committee.

Organizer Robin Tomaselli said most of the meals were served at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church or delivered by volunteers to people in the area. Additional food was donated to Diakonia that evening and accounted for several dozen more people fed, she said.

Worcester Technical High School, Shi-Mar Farms, The Good Farm, The Globe, Blacksmith Berlin, Burley Inn Tavern, Gilbert’s Provisions, Fins Ale House and Raw Bar, The Atlantic Hotel, Baked Dessert Café and On What Grounds donated food.

Additionally, Bruder Hill, Bruder Home, Atlantic Retreat and the Church Mouse Thrift Shop donated paper products for the event, and a local family donated centerpieces.

“The whole thing was awesome … because our entire culinary artist’s village really stepped to the plate,” Tomaselli said. “And, of course, it could not have happened without the ministry at St. Paul’s. Not only did they donate the venue, but [they] spent two days helping us set up the hall and they prepared the greens that were donated. They made gravy, they cooked hams, and the kids from Worcester Youth and Family served again.”

Tomaselli said girls from the SAGES program at Worcester Youth helped to serve food, while boys from the SAGES program rode with Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing and resident Mike Wiley, to help deliver food.

“My sister who is a middle school teacher gave us a list of kids in middle schools who were really in need of a hot meal, some of whom are homeless, if you can imagine that,” Tomaselli said. “We delivered to students … and people who were shut-in.”

She rode along during the initial round of deliveries. The first stop, she said, was to a 95-year-old woman in her home who could not have been happier to see the Berlin chief of police.

“As soon as she heard [Downing’s] voice, she lit up like a ray of sunshine. And he visits these people all the time,” Tomaselli said. “If you ask me, he is a story unto himself.

“He knows every single person in this community that’s in need. He knows what their schedule is as far as what days and times they go to dialysis and how many people in their household might need a hot meal,” she added. “I think that he is a gift to all of us that, probably, a lot of us take for granted. He really goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

Wiley was similarly impressed.

“This is the second year that I’ve worked with Chief Downing and helped him deliver stuff around town and the outskirts of town, and it’s amazing how he knows everyone,” he said.

According to Wiley, no one wrote down addresses. Downing had a list of last names of dozens of people in need and knew exactly where each one was.

“He’d say, oh that’s so and so and his mother is such and such person, and everything just flowed. We never had any issues at all,” Wiley said. “He’s a very good example for everyone in town. I think he draws it all together and he’s respected all over town – I’ve never heard a negative word about him.”

Downing, for his part, said he was just grateful to be able to help.

“It’s always a blessing when you can go ahead and do something like that. I think the real takeaway is everyone showing you so much appreciation,” he said. “I had an opportunity to take a couple of the young men from Worcester Youth and Mike went with me and Robin also, and they got to … see how many people inside the community [needed help].”

Of the deliveries, Downing said about a half-dozen people served had just returned home from hospital stays.

“For a lot of people it was really timely,” he said. “Some people said it was just so special just to have something like that ready for them and [to see] that people care. It was just a confirmation of how much people care about each other in the community.”

Tomaselli said she contacted everyone who donated food or services to the event and each said the same thing – they all want to help again next year.

“I think what everybody took away was, if you look around, the world is filled with really awesome people who are really interested in giving back to others. I think you miss that if the only thing you’re plugged into is the news and social media,” she said.

For those who want to continue to help, Downing said St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on 405 Flower Street has a pantry kitchen. Stevenson United Methodist Church on 123 North Main Street operates a Spirit Kitchen and Sonrise Church on 10026 Main Street runs a similar operation.

“Folks can just ask those and other faith-based organizations how they can assist. Some of it may be monetary and gift donations, and other times volunteering and helping with those organizations,” he said.

For more information about the Berlin Arts and Entertainment Committee, visit www.artsinberlin.org.