Last Sunday, Ossining’s Barry Prichep was worried. As co-chair of the Peekskill Area Pastors Association’s annual Thanksgiving Community Dinner, he knew he’d be serving at least 300 meals within days. And it didn’t take his CPA skills to count the larder’s then-current contents: one turkey and two pies.
But after two decades of helping to feed hungry diners, Prichep remained calm and called for help, e-mailing WHUD-FM radio personality Kacey Morabito. By Monday, the event’s need was a prominent part of the station’s community bulletin board; by Tuesday, the Salvation Army, which was collecting donated turkeys for the dinner, had more birds than pans to accommodate them.
By Thursday, the birds had been matched with pans, placed on plates and surrounded by greens and potatoes, both mashed and sweet. Grateful guests, some 150 of them, enjoyed a noontime feast at the United Methodist Church on Main Street in Peekskill.
“Who knows?” Prichep shrugged, as volunteers stood poised to clean up after another successful dinner. “Maybe people would have donated [the turkeys] anyway. But the radio didn’t hurt.”
However the word got out, it was sufficient to supply Roy Volpe of Stormville, Prichep’s co-chair, with the raw materials he would need to feed those 150 diners as well as another 150 who were homebound for the holiday. A retired teacher of art and science for the emotionally handicapped at Northern Westchester BOCES, Volpe has run the fast-paced kitchen end of the annual dinner for 21 of his 22 years with the program.
With minutes to go before doors opened, the chairmen briefed more than 100 volunteers lining the dining room walls, underscoring the dinner’s goal of providing a comfortable, unrushed environment for the occasion.
Bishop Michael J. Champion, a Peekskill native and pastor of the Parroquia Católica San José in Montrose, also addressed the volunteers. As president of the dinner’s sponsor, the Peekskill Area Pastors Association, he thanked them for their service.
The volunteers spanned a wide range in ages—high school to senior-citizen—and residency—from homegrown to elsewhere in the Hudson Valley, and far beyond. One of them even came from Washington. Without fanfare, Rep. Nan Hayworth of Mount Kisco threaded her way between the tables, each with six to eight diners, serving drinks from pitchers of juice and cider.
Seated at an empty table for an interview as the last few diners finished their meals, Prichep turned and asked a volunteer cleanup crew to delay their efforts for a moment. “You don’t want the people still eating to think they’re keeping you from leaving,” he explained.
Reflecting on his own 20 years’ service to the dinner, he might well have been speaking for all of Thursday’s volunteers: “It’s a labor of love,” Prichep said. “The pay sucks.”