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Residents enjoy the Thanksgiving Dinner at First Congregational Church on South Main Street in Wallingford on Thursday. (Lauren Sievert Record-Journal)

Residents come together for community holiday meal

WALLINGFORD — Live music, balloon animals, face painting and apple stuffing were all parts of the 32nd annual community Thanksgiving dinner at First Congregational Church on Thursday.

The dinner officially started at noon, but Lisa Catherine, team leader, said the prep work began on Monday. The founder of the dinner, Nancy Freyberg, retired this year and Catherine took over, but Freyberg still said an opening prayer and made a speech.

As of noon, a line of volunteers were picking up packaged dinners to bring to homebound residents. Catherine said at least 125 meals would be delivered by the volunteers, and anywhere from 200 to 300 meals are served at the church. Any remaining food would be picked up by nonprofits, including the Wallingford shelter, Catherine said. Nothing would go to waste.

No shortcuts were taken in getting the meals ready. The meals were served on dinnerware — no plastic plates used here — and were put on place mats made by local children. The community aspect of the dinner is one of the reasons it is so special in town, Catherine said.

“We could have used boxed potatoes, but we didn’t want to,” Catherine said. “People wanted to come, sit and peel potatoes and talk with one another.”

Dennis Bonnito brought a variety of musical instruments and entertained the crowd while they tucked into a delicious meal. Joseph and P.J. Gontarz, better known by their stage names of Mr. Joe and Fifi Feathers, were on hand to paint faces, make balloon animals and perform magic and puppetry. The Gontarzes work for “Putting on the Ritz” and have been married for almost 30 years. As Wallingford residents, they heard about the dinner and decided to come down and “bring some fun,” Joseph Gontarz said. Children ran around with some of the balloon animal creations, including an alien wearing a space helmet and balloon swords. Joseph Gontarz walked through the crowd with his monkey puppet, Sweetness, named after his nickname for his wife.

Trisha Lopez-Krol, support living worker for the Department of Developmental Services, said this was her eighth year coming to the dinner with some of her clients.

“It’s a great opportunity. Such nice people put it on, and it really has made for a happy Thanksgiving for the clients over the years,” Lopez-Krol said. “People don’t realize how many people need a warm, good meal to make their holidays.”

Grace Watrous, 85, of Southington, said she was born and raised in Wallingford and has come to the dinner for “quite a few years.” Watrous came this year with her son, who suffered a brain injury in a car accident. Her favorite part of the dinner? Eating, of course, along with all the people that attend.

Annamarie Bodisch, of Meriden, has been volunteering for eight years at the dinner. Bodisch said she first came to the church dinner after her mother passed away, and is grateful to have a place to go on the holidays.

“So many people come back year after year,” Catherine said.

lsievert@record-journal.com



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