When some families from Bridgeport’s East End, who are struggling to make ends meet, sit down to a Thanksgiving feast this Thursday, students and alumnae from the Masuk Alternative School will have helped make the meal possible.
Fifteen people from Masuk were among the volunteers sorting and bagging food donations, stocking shelves and breaking down boxes in the food pantry of Blessed Sacrament Church on Union Avenue in Bridgeport Wednesday morning.
The Rev. Joseph “Skip” Karcsinski, the pastor of Blessed Sacrament who is known by many in Monroe for his time at St. Jude Church, oversaw the volunteer effort.
“Today is our distribution for Thanksgiving,” he said. “We’ll probably distribute 2,600 turkeys and at least that many bags of groceries. Yesterday we distributed 500 turkeys to a number of rehab organizations, P.A.L. and some of our small evangelical churches in the area. We help our neighbors, because we have so many generous volunteers with us today. They are also helping us with our weekly distribution, because hunger is year-round.”
Karcsinski said meeting poor people face-to-face gives students a broader perspective than what they see in the news media. He said not all of the poor are homeless. There are elderly, handicapped and working families, who after paying for school programs and heating bills have no money left over for food.
“I can’t put a value on the encouragement we feel when we have guests in the neighborhood,” he said. “We have a very bad reputation and sometimes we have to own it. When the residents see young guests here, it’s very encouraging.”
‘It’s a beautiful thing’
Among the volunteers from Masuk, Elyas Arjona, a sophomore, helped teacher Victor Alfandre to stock shelves in the church basement with boxes of cereal. The rows included brands like Frosted Flakes, Life and Rice Krispies, but Cheerios took up most of the space.
“As you can see, Cheerios are popular,” Alfandre said with a smile.
“Where’s the peanut butter?” Diane Corica, a paraprofessional, asked as you entered the basement with a box. Paula McMahon, a transition coordinator for the Masuk Alternative School, said Corica, who is also a parishioner of the church, arranged for students to volunteer.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Corica, who deflected credit.
In a wide open room, food was sorted on long tables. Teacher, Patrick Petrie, bagged groceries with two alumnae, Kelly Sipos and Alana Burr. The young women later helped to stock shelves downstairs.
“I think it’s great. I enjoy helping,” Sipos said. “I don’t have it easy either. It’s just good to see other people care, because you don’t really see that a lot anymore.”
“It’s just really humbling. I like it,” Burr said of volunteering, before mentioning that Corica is the reason she and Sipos, who already graduated, came back to help. “It’s Mrs. C mostly. She always makes sure you’re involved. She always makes sure you’re a part of it, now and forever.”
“She’s the backbone, Mrs. C,” Sipos added.
Jess Damiani, a Masuk senior, stocked shelves. She said Corica is always looking for opportunities for students to volunteer. For example, she took them to the St. Joseph’s Manor Care and Rehabilitation Center in Trumbull last week, where they did sing-alongs with senior citizens who live there.
“It’s much better than sitting in a classroom all day,” Damiani said. “She wants us to get out into the real world.”
Of volunteering at the church, Damiani said, “my family has to go to the food pantry, so it’s kind of like seeing what goes on behind the scenes. I love it. I like helping people. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
On Thanksgiving Day, Damiani will volunteer helping animals at the SPCA of Connecticut in Monroe.
“I think it’s the most important thing they learn from us, from the school, from our district, from our teachers, to give back to the community, make other people more important than yourselves,” Petrie said. “While stressing about your own stuff during the holidays, you realize there are people who have it worse than you.”