‘Wanna Do Something Different for Christmas?’

By Daniel Marrazzo, CLA Member posted 02-27-2017 12:10

  
Laundry Owner Serves Holiday Dinner to Area Homeless

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi

Difference_4.jpgFor the last five years, we’ve done laundry for the homeless at our store every week.

Here’s how it works: if someone is admitted to the local homeless shelter in our area with laundry needs, I’ll receive an email from the shelter – which I then forward my son, Dan, who manages that store. In turn, he will provide a wash card for the person who needs our help.

Over the years, I’ve had several people stop me in the store – where at first I’ve thought they were just “regular customers,” only to eventually discover that they were homeless and hugely thankful for the free service we provided.

However, what put me over the edge occurred one morning when I was opening one of my stores before 6:00 a.m. – and I encountered a customer waiting for me. He was just a regular guy, probably better dressed than I was at that moment.

He proceeded to tell me of his former days on Wall Street – until he lost his job, then his house and, before long, most of his worldly possessions. He told me that he had just found another job and was so thankful for clean clothes that we had helped provide.

At that point, I realized “homelessness” doesn’t look the way I thought it did. So, I immediately approached my then-21-year-old son and said, “Wanna do something different this year for Christmas?”

In a nutshell, that’s how four years ago our annual Christmas dinner for the area’s homeless was started.

Difference_2.jpgDan agreed to cook and serve our holiday diners that year, and I asked the coordinator of the homeless shelter if it would be OK with her. She was thrilled at the prospect but explained to me that my idea probably wouldn’t work, because all of the churches they might use for such an event would be busy with Christmas services.

I explained that we have a 6,000-square-foot office/warehouse facility that could be used to host this event. And, when she presented the plan to her board of directors, two individuals even offered to supply buses to transport people to our dinner event.

Next, we advertised the event on all of the local bulletin boards. In addition, we used Google Voice to make our message and details available to any caller. All in all, the preparation part wasn’t very difficult.

As for making the dinner, my mom was a typical Italian mother who could prepare a meal for 40 in an hour’s notice – and it would be hands-down better than any restaurant in town could put together. That trait has definitely rubbed off on my son and me, as we’ve been cooking together since he was a Tenderfoot in the Boy Scouts. Over the years, we’ve cooked for as many as 180 people – and, with the commercial kitchen I built into my house, food preparation wasn’t the biggest hurdle.

Difference_3.jpgHowever, as good as my son and I thought we were, we knew could only serve one item each, so we would need help transporting the food and serving our guests. Fortunately, I have two brothers who volunteered to help, along with their kids. In addition, several of my son’s friends agreed to lend a hand, and on Christmas Day, we had 20 people show up for work to help with the dinner event.

We filled a Ford F-350 front to rear with food, and I brought added refrigeration to my house for storage. And, best of all, when word got out what we were doing, we received several volunteered side dishes and desserts.

In all, our menu has included chicken cacciatore, roast top round, turkey, ham, baked ziti, roast pork and escarole, lasagna, stuffed shells, assorted vegetables, and tables full of desserts.

We start preparing all of the dishes on Christmas Eve morning and finish up midday on Christmas Day. The toughest part of the dinner is moving the food from our kitchen to the warehouse, which is a half-mile away, while still keeping everything hot.

We’ve had the same volunteers for this event all fours years, and it seems to be getting smoother each time.

At 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Day, we have more than 30 people waiting for dinner to begin. The buses start arriving shortly after that, and in what seems like mere minutes, 16 tables are filled with people.

The line for dinner is always very orderly. In fact, we have yet to have anyone who is even remotely discourteous.

I have served dinner to many people over the years, and none have been more appreciative than our Christmas guests. Many ask who they should thank – and they will approach me to shake my hand and express their gratitude. The part that many can’t understand is that it is a much more fulfilling feeling for me than for anyone who has come to enjoy the dinner.

I would highly recommend something like this to other laundry owners – as I guarantee it will be the best Christmas you have had since you were 5 years old. We have so many young people who attend with their parents and who come away with a renewed sense of appreciation for the world around them and their place in it. In fact, over the years, I’ve had friends ask me if their children can help serve the dinner, because they want them to understand the importance of serving others.

This past year, we served more than 150 people who went away almost as fulfilled as the volunteers who served them. For many who didn’t get that sweater or that new car they wanted for Christmas, I recommend volunteering your time to your community next Christmas.

A while ago, I ran across an old Christmas card I received from a past dinner guest – and I’ve kept it, just in the event I ever change my mind about holding Christmas dinner in the future. It reads:

Dear Mr. Marrazzo,

You don’t know who I am, but I have attended your Christmas dinners for the last few years, even though I am not homeless. Before you held these dinners, I was able to either provide dinner for my family for Christmas or buy them gifts – never both. Because of your generosity, I can now do both.

If there is a better purpose in this life, I can’t think of one.
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