Smothered in homemade spaghetti sauce and garnished with sausages or meatballs or both, the noodles that will be devoured at Catholic Charities’ 18th Street Neighborhood Center this weekend serve as symbols of the organization’s many missions.
The Neighborhood Center will hold its 22nd annual Spaghetti Dinner from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 15. Dinners are served by volunteers as well as area priests and pastors from various denominations. Takeout meals also will be available. For the first time, Altmeyer Funeral Home will be providing limousine service this year to transport people from area high rises to the Spaghetti Dinner.
Tickets are $8 for adults; children ages 5 and under are free. Raffle items also will be available at the event. All proceeds will support the vital services the Neighborhood Center provides to ensure all people can access the services they need to reach their full potential and work toward lasting and meaningful change.
“The Spaghetti Dinner is critical to our mission here at the Neighborhood Center. We have fundraisers throughout the year, but this is the only one that we do here at the facility,” said Grant Coleman, an employee for nearly two years. “It’s that important because it brings in an amount of funds that allows us to continue our mission and also because we get to invite the community into the center so they can see what we have going on here.
“It’s an event where the people who come for the dinner get to see and meet many of our volunteers, some of the people we assist and a lot of other people who help us put it all together,” he said. “I think a lot of people have an idea of what this place may look like on the inside, but usually people are very surprised with what they find when they see it for the very first time. They learn just how important this place is to the people we serve on a daily basis, and plus, they get to try some of the food.”
The menu changes daily between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Coleman confirmed, and the offerings depend on the time of year, donation collections and the facility’s budget.
“Our staff, though, is always determined to put together a menu that everyone is going to enjoy,” Coleman said. “We do get compliments all the time, too.
“We also deliver meals to about 160 people per day Monday through Saturday, so that definitely adds to the mission,” he said. “But here at the center, you may see a steak and vegetable combination one day and then lasagna the next day. No matter what, there is always a main dish, and vegetable, and another side with every meal.”
Students join senior citizens, and people from all walks in the Wheeling area gather together six days per week to prepare and deliver more than 300 meals per day. The number of daily daunting tasks is a high one, but the service offered by many volunteers each meal service is what allows for missions to be accomplished.
“It takes about 200 volunteers each week to make this place go,” Coleman explained. “I’m not saying that it’s not difficult to attract that many, but more often than not we get enough help to perform the mission. We really do have some incredible people, and we are very lucky for that.
“Some of the volunteers have been coming here for more than 20 years, and we have the students, and we also have people who just made that decision to begin volunteering here,” he said. “We have volunteers from Temple Shalom, and we have volunteers from all of the Catholic churches, so we have people from all walks of life who donate their time to make this all happen. We’re truly blessed.”
One of those volunteers is Christine Anghie, a local lady who teaches at St. Vincent de Paul School and has been accompanying her students to the Neighborhood Center for more than two decades.
“The first time, I didn’t volunteer by myself because several students from St. Vincent’s came with me. We started that in 1994, and the students were to come every third Saturday of every month,” she said. “We would cook and serve the food, and that’s a program that we still do there. Not only did we find the needs for this Neighborhood Center, but this is also a part of the mission of our patron saint, St. Vincent de Paul.
“It’s about the real sense of service, and that is why the program started and why it continues today,” Anghie said. “Young people, especially today, have a tendency to go through life with blinders on. This program takes those blinders off.”
She witnessed it, and Anghie enjoys telling the story about a young boy who learned a life lesson that involved a neighborhood friend.
“There was one day one of the students came up to me to tell me that he couldn’t work on the service line. After I asked him why he could not do that, he told me that he had seen a friend from his neighborhood in the line to be fed that one day,” Anghie explained. “Seeing that friend took those blinders off for him.
“It immediately taught that one student how much he actually had compared to that friend, and that moment taught that student a really big lesson about life,” she continued. “That is why, I believe, allowing those students to see the need that they all see here every single day is a very good thing for them. It’s not about them; it’s about the people they are helping.”
More Than Meals
Catholic Charities is a national non-profit organization with deep roots in all regions of the state of West Virginia. Patty Phillips, the development and marketing director in the Mountain State, explained how the vision of the charity has been simplified during recent months.
“We envision West Virginia as a place where all people can access services they need to be happy and healthy so they can reach their full potential,” she explained. “I believe we will see more people reaching their full potential in the years to come, and that will take place because of our case management.
“Our case managers develop relationships with the people we assist so we can identify all of the areas in which they need our help,” she continued. “The case managers also identify their strengths so we can assist them with building on those strengths so they live a more balanced, happy life. That’s always our goal.”
Kelly Pizzoferrato, a case manager based at the 18th Street Neighborhood Center, offers examples of the many services she provides to each individual who seeks the assistance.
“What we encounter here as case managers concerns both short-term and long-term needs,” she explained. “The short-term needs may involve a need for a mental health provider so I can find out what the individual needs to do to gain access to that care.
“Long-term needs involve a need to find employment or stable housing,” Pizzoferrato said. “We present to them all of the options there are depending on what their need is, and then we go from there so we can do everything possible to improve their life. That’s an example of the difference between the short-term and long-term needs we assist with here.”
Each of her cases varies, of course, but Pizzoferrato confessed that her efforts have become what she believes to be her life’s work.
“There are individuals that need our assistance for six months or up to a year depending on their individual situation,” Pizzoferrato said. “We do have several people who come to us for utility assistance, especially during the colder months of the year, so we offer the help we can, and we also are able to direct them into other directions to gain even more assistance.
“I have always loved helping people, so a position like this one is perfect for me and my goals,” she explained. “I can honestly say that since I started with Catholic Charities almost two years ago, it’s been very rewarding and I love my job. This work allows me to realize the reasons why I am doing what I am doing, and that is why a few months ago I decided to pursue a master’s in social work. For me, it’s all about helping people.”
Although the 18th Street Neighborhood Center sits as the most comprehensive office in the state, the organization offers similar services within every region in West Virginia.
“We have 20 outreach offices around the state, and there are also five program offices dealing with children, the elderly and immigrants,” Phillips said. “The 20 outreach offices provide the basic help that many people need with utilities, rent assistance and with food from our many food pantries. We also have one mobile food pantry that travels throughout the mid-Ohio Valley area so we can reach people in our more rural communities.
“Also, we have offices in the state’s larger cities like Martinsburg, Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown, and we did open a new adult education center in Huntington,” she said. “We help with literacy, with their financial concerns they may have, and we also have the ability to make referrals that can help the people, too.”
Just as it takes place in Wheeling, the youth and the retired come together to offer service to their respective communities, and Phillips, the mother of a teenager herself, has recognized the differences it makes to the individual volunteers.
“Service plays an important role when it comes to working closely with our young people here in Wheeling, and I believe we see more of that cooperation in the future,” Phillips said. “It’s very important for the kids to see that there is a world outside what they know, it that other world might just be sitting next to you in class or during Mass.
“It’s also important for the children to learn that there is value in service,” she continued. “That value is connected to their own well-being and also in their faith. We see it time and again that a person’s experiences as a volunteer at the Neighborhood Center change their life, and sometimes it changes their course in life.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)
• Steve Novotney has been a professional journalist for 23 years, working for weekly and daily newspapers, the official publication of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and talk radio stations in Pittsburgh and Wheeling. He took his journalism to the Ohio Valley airwaves in 2004, and he is a premier interviewer and feature writer. Steve has been married to his wife, Michelle, for more than 20 years, and they have two children, Michael and Amanda.