Helen Borbely has gotten too close to compelling need to be unaffected by it.
"Don't put in the crying, OK?" she said Wednesday afternoon in the St. Mary's Catholic Church's lower hall, during preparations for the annual Society of St. Vincent de Paul Christmas dinner. "Just say people are hurting."
The society was founded by Frederick Ozanan said Tillsonburg chapter chair Marylin Sarochan. His father, a doctor's helping of the poor inspired Frederick (a lawyer) who formalized his and like-minded university students' efforts in mid-1800 France.
"And here we are again," said Sorochan.
The local chapter's naissance had its roots in the desire for a project developed within a St. Mary's parish scripture study group that met Tuesday afternoons, and ultimately translated intellectual exercise into physical action.
"We felt we needed to go and do something," said Sorochan. "This is something we felt was needed.”
'Doing something' morphed into a meal open to all those in need, Wednesdays from 5-6:30 p.m. in the church basement, beginning the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving and concluding at the end of April. Roughly 25 people of all ages broke bread together as the effort began six years ago, says Sorochan.
"Now, we're up to between 90 and 100," said Borbely. "The numbers have increased tremendously."
A companion effort delivers food to those in need, and attends to outstanding bills. That outreach amounted to seven deliveries per month three years ago, said Borbely
"I'm up to 46 a month. People are hurting badly."
Wednesday's menu changes from week to week, although this week's Christmas dinner was a deliciously predictable combination of turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
"We have three huge cakes that are decorated for Christmas," Sorochan continued. "And Santa brings very nice, age-appropriate presents for the children."
The weekly meal is hosted on a rotating basis by a cast of around 80 dedicated and dependable volunteers.
"I just love our volunteers," said Sorochan. "When you call, they always come."
Their participation is arguably based in part on both on positive interaction with both fellow volunteers and guests, along with the sense of the program’s worth.
“They want to do something, but they also want to know something constructive is being done,” said Sorochan.
The effort is supported financially by the St. Mary's parish, and also the broader community says Sorochan, buoyed by the recent donation of $500, "just out of the blue."
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul works in conjunction with The Tillsonburg Resource Network and member organizations including the Helping Hand Food Bank, Salvation Army and St. Paul's United Church.
"They work with us, we work with them," said Sorochan.
Those wishing more information on the society, or wishing to support its work are invited to call the St. Mary's rectory at 519-842-3224. Those wishing to partake of the meal are invited to simply show up, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. There is no criteria, Sorochan emphasized, other than being open to sharing a hearty meal.
"Even if they are simply looking for companionship," she concluded. "Everyone is welcome to come to our friendship table."