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With ever-expanding programs and holiday needs right around the corner, Community Dining Room Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Rosenberg welcomes volunteer help, donations, and other assistance from individuals, schools, businesses, and organizations. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Somehow, Community Dining Room (CDR) Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Rosenberg never fails to rise to the challenge of rounding up enough volunteers to staff and/or help donate to ever-expanding programs; fill CDR’s kitchen crew with prep, cook, service, and clean up volunteers dishing up 50 to 90 meals per day (365 days a year); and line up drivers for 70 to 75 home deliveries sent out several days a week.
To gather that many volunteers, you need to get the word out and get creative, says Courtney. Right now, she’s doing both to help bolster a busy time for non-profit CDR—Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Thanksgiving Day, for example, at least 200 residents from East Haven to Old Saybrook will come to CDR to partake of a free, festive holiday meal. Courtney’s focus is driving in enough donations of turkeys, food, and store gift cards to help CDR put out a great spread.
“Thanksgiving is our biggest meal of the year, so we’re looking for turkeys and all kinds of food donations for everything [from] appetizers to our main buffet and right down to the apple cider,” says Courtney, who has been part of CDR’s staff for nearly three years.
Right now, she’s also looking for volunteer drivers to help deliver Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday meals. To find out what food can be contributed for the holidays or to volunteer to deliver on those days, give Courtney or Barbara Barrett, CDR home delivery coordinator, a call at 203-488-9750.
In addition to the need for holiday food donations and volunteer drivers, CDR also welcomes meal supply gift cards (such as those from Big Y, Stop & Shop, WalMart, or Restaurant Depot) to help pull together all the ingredients. School groups and others are also encouraged to organize a non-perishable food drive for CDR, which has a pantry in constant need of stocking, year-round. To follow the latest needs and wish list requests of CDR, find the Community Dining Room Inc. on Facebook.
Courtney also thanks the wonderful group of volunteers who’ve been coming back to serve the Thanksgiving meal annually—some for as many as 33 years and local business that contribute items, such as stuffed breads from Indian Neck Pizza (which also provides pizza dinners to CDR once a month). She also has Country School of Madison to thank for its annual effort to put on CDR’s Christmas dinner and provide gifts to the families and kids who come out.
If you think gathering volunteers for two holiday efforts adds a lot to Courtney’s plate, think again. She’s also currently working to round up people and groups to help out during the week as substitute cooks (from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), substitute home delivery drivers (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), local food donation drivers, and general help in the kitchen and dining room (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) as well as lunch servers/clean up crews (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). Courtney needs folks who can pitch in one to five hours per week, Monday to Friday.
“A lot of our volunteers are snowbirds, so that increases our need for help on the weekdays,” says Courtney, who is always willing to think outside of the box if it helps someone to become a volunteer.
“If you want to help a whole shift, that’s great, but we can break it down. If you only can help for two hours to serve or clean up, we’ll take that, too, because it helps take the burden off everyone in the kitchen,” she says. “And I always ask volunteers if they can be on the emergency list, because almost on a daily basis, I’m calling someone to fill in. Sometimes, it takes more phone calls! But our volunteers are always willing to jump in and help when they can.”
CDR is also looking for volunteers for Helping Hands of CDR, which needs enthusiastic community members to help with fundraising, events, and more. Courtney also encourages everyone who can to help CDR Get Fed Up, (also known as CDR’s 24-hour Hunger Campaign) on Monday, Dec. 3, by going to giveGreater.org on that day and making a donation.
On a daily basis, Courtney’s part-time job at CDR includes supporting the volunteers who currently donate their time as individuals and through local organizations, schools, churches, and companies.
“I want to make sure [it’s] recognized how important our volunteers are to CDR and to me as well,” says Courtney. “If it weren’t for the hundreds of volunteers that help with all of our programs, CDR would not be what it is and would not be able to help all of our neighbors in need!”
She’s also constantly reaching out to connect with new resources who can help.
“I’m always working with schools and local businesses, getting them engaged in volunteering and donating,” says Courtney. “A lot of companies want to do a Day of Caring or a Day of Service. I just had a school from Northford call me; they want to bring some of their seniors over. Last year, we started a collaboration with the [Branford] High School culinary program; we provide the produce and they in turn make food for us.”
Some programs are seasonal, such as Branford Public Schools and its food service provider, Chartwells, helping out with CDR’s annual summer Tuesday Night Meals on the Branford Green, and members of Guilford and Branford groups such as Junior Honor Society, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and church youth programs filling the need for 100 volunteers (20 per weekend) for five weeks of kids’ tent activities as part of CDR’s annual fall fundraiser at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford.
Courtney says many volunteers come from the Branford community because CDR is based in the town’s Volunteer Services Center, but a growing list of volunteers are also pitching in from other towns.
“The [New Haven] Knights of Columbus started with a Day of Caring six months ago through United Way, and now they’re here once a month,” she notes. “The Madison Lutheran Church’s pastor came out and did a day of service, then went back to his congregation and was able to tell them all what he did. He was able to experience it, to see how much of a need we have. And now, we have a new cook starting here from his congregation! And the pastor just emailed me, because he wants to come in and help again.
“I think you don’t really know what’s going on until you’re here,” she says. “We can put a request out and tell them what we need, but when you’re in the thick of things, you can see it for yourself.”
Because several local schools and church groups have become proven support systems for CDR, Courtney is working on expanding CDR’s call for volunteers to more towns all along the shoreline.
“We service from East Haven all the way to Old Saybrook and we’re starting to reach out a little further for volunteers,” says Courtney. “I just sent out requests to all schools within our territory and to churches in our surrounding towns as far as Madison.”
Led by Executive Director Judy Barron, Courtney, like all members of the tiny staff of employees at CDR, wears multiple hats on the job. Those hats continue to multiply as CDR increases its basic needs programming to provide what Barron terms as “more than just a meal” to those it serves.
While it’s not required for her position, Courtney holds a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University and worked for many years in her field providing child psychological home care. The Stony Creek native, née Opie, (BHS Class of 1995) briefly left town to reside in Hamden for 12 years. Five years ago, she returned to live Stony Creek, where she and her husband, Michael, are raising their two children, who attend Branford Public Schools in 6th and 2nd grades. Courtney is active as a volunteer with her children’s PTO, serves as a school room mother, and also puts her volunteering heart into helping her church, Stony Creek Congregational.
At CDR, whether she’s coordinating the annual backpack program (which fills backpacks with free school supplies to give away to kids each fall), or managing annual free appointments from the visiting Yale New Haven Hospital/Smilow Cancer Hospital mammography van (coming to CDR Friday, Nov. 16), Courtney says it’s all hands on deck to deliver the best outcome for those served by CDR.
“Everything’s a collaborative effort here. No one does just one thing. Everything we do gets done because we’re all working together,” she says.
Speaking of collaboration, Courtney welcomes creative ideas from groups who want to help out at CDR. For example, after she put the word out about the mammogram van visit, she was contacted by the Paul Mitchell School in North Haven.
“They work with the Bright Pink campaign and they wanted to do a Day of Service in collaboration with us,” says Courtney. “So five of them are going to be coming in and doing hand massages for anybody that wants to come in on Nov. 16, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. And then, they’re going to put their sneakers on and help with our lunch service!”
While constantly working to find volunteers and fill donation needs may seem like a never-ending job, Courtney says the reward of reaching out and receiving a response from so many people who are willing to help makes her work “heartwarming.”
“I’m sure a lot of towns are like this, but we say it all the time in the kitchen about these communities—it really is heartwarming to know that everyone is willing to help,” says Courtney.
Community Dining Room is located on the main floor of the Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Service Center, 30 Harrison Avenue, Branford. For more information, call 203-488-9750, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.communitydiningroom.org or find Community Dining Room Inc. on Facebook.
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