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North Branford resident Jerry Begley is a multi-talented individual who gives back as a volunteer chef and a musician. Shown here cooking at Community Dining Room (CDR), Begley is helping to organize the ninth annual Arti Dixson’s Help Our People Event (HOPE) coming Sunday, April 28 to Anthony’s Ocean View in New Haven, where food donations will be collected to benefit CDR and several other food support programs in Connecticut. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Whether he’s making music or making meatballs, Jerry Begley loves to use his talents to give back to others in need.
In fact, the North Branford resident was making 200 meatballs as a volunteer chef with Community Dining Room (CDR) in Branford last week when The Sound caught up with him to talk about another volunteer venture he’s undertaken: his role in the ninth annual Help Our People Event (HOPE) to fight hunger in Connecticut.
For HOPE, Jerry, a seasoned guitarist, joins an all-star lineup of musicians led by famed drummer Arti Dixson. Together, they put on a memorable night of live entertainment for a huge crowd, which brings in hundreds of bags of food donations.
HOPE is Jerry’s vision, spun off from another inspiring event, Arti Dixson’s Annual Holiday Party.
“Arti Dixson, who is a world-famous drummer from the area, started the holiday party 30 years ago,” says Jerry. “Every Christmas, the deal is you come to the party for great food and unbelievable entertainment—the musicians play for free—and we donate all the toys we collect that night. We collect 1,000 toys, easily, every year.”
About nine years ago, Jerry, who was also volunteering to help CDR at the time, came up with the idea for HOPE and brought it Dixson.
“I used to buy food and pick it up [from the Connecticut Food Bank] for CDR, and I noticed that in February and March, the pantry was bare, because everybody gives during Christmas, but after that, they stop,” says Jerry. “So I said to Arti, ‘Hey, the way we’re doing this for toys; what if we did that with food with another party, in the spring?’ And we started from there, and now this will be our ninth year. And we sell out every year, just like the holiday party.”
Jerry says the night of HOPE draws hundreds of attendees who buy out tables and fill the venue with bags of donated food for the cause. He also knows the reason for the sell-out is due in no small part to the huge night of live musical entertainment in store for the audience.
“The people that we play with, they all have CDs out,” says Jerry. “Some heavy people come. The sax player plays with Smokey Robinson, the keyboard player plays with Alicia Keys...These guys are the real deal.”
Advance tickets, $40, are going fast for HOPE, coming Sunday, April 28, at 6 p.m. at Anthony’s Ocean View, 450 Lighthouse Road in New Haven. Ticket price includes dinner and live music performed by Arti Dixson, Mike Coppola, James Cammack, Cookie Thomas, Ken Gioffre, Fabian Ortiz, Timmy Maia, Jay Rowe, Trevor Sommerville, Josh Soboslai, Dan Donofrio, Jerry Begley, and many more.
In addition to supporting CDR with food collected that night, HOPE will gather food for Orange Community Center Food Pantry, St. Paul-St. James Church Pantry (New Haven), Inspirica (Stamford), The Spanish Community Center Food Pantry (Wallingford), The Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Woodbridge Services Emergency Food Pantry, Makela (West Haven), Gillespie Center (Westport), St. Ann’s Church (Hamden), and Masters Manna Pantry (Wallingford).
As a sales manager at Branford-based Mosaic Marketing, Printing & Signage, Jerry has continued to volunteer with CDR through the years and now brings along co-workers to help. Last week, he had four volunteers from Mosiac come to CDR to help during a lunch service, with one co-worker, Lucia Bordillo, helping him out in the kitchen for the first time.
“I love it here, they’re all good people,” says Jerry of CDR. “This is a good cause.”
The New Britain native has been cooking for about 40 years, after learning the ropes from a roommate who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He’s been playing guitar even longer, about 60 years, including a decade on the road with a rock band based out of Atlanta, Georgia.
“I was on tour for 10 years, and when I got off the road I ended up in New Haven. Then I started a real job!” says Jerry, laughing. “I was sales manager of the Advocate newspaper, and my wife came to apply for a job. So I got to interview my wife!”
Jerry and his wife, JoAnn, moved to North Branford 20 years ago and raised their son and daughter in town. Jerry’s also known to many baseball players who came up through North Branford, Branford, and other Connecticut towns through his seasonal work as a high school baseball umpire, a job that he’s enjoyed for 23 years.
With baseball season warming up, Jerry will be taking some time off from volunteering weekly at CDR, but will return in November.
CDR kitchen coordinator Mary Johnston says he will be missed while he’s away.
“He’s a breath of fresh air. He has a fabulous sense of humor,” says Mary. “He’ll jump in anywhere we need him to help, and he does such much to help others.”
Arti Dixson’s Help Our People Event (HOPE) takes place Sunday, April 28, 6 p.m. at Anthony’s Ocean View, 450 Lighthouse Road, New Haven. Tickets are not sold at the door; to sponsor or purchase advance tickets for HOPE, make a check out to Arti Dixson Productions and mail to 357 Taulman Road, Orange, CT 06477 or call 203-795-3109.
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