PAWTUCKET — Although the timing of the event sometimes changes, the spirit is always the same at the Mayor's Holiday Dinner: to bring some nutritious food and a little extra joy to those who need it.
On Monday afternoon at the Portuguese Social Club at 131 School Street, it was Mayor Donald Grebien's turn to host the annual event, which is open to members of the community. Grebien, along with most of the city's department heads and other volunteers, helped serve a turkey dinner with all of the fixings to over 200 attendees. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and City Councilors Christopher O'Neill, Albert Vitali, Jean Philippe Barros and Mark Wildenhain also took an active role in the event.
For the city's elderly and other members of the community, it was a chance to socialize and enjoy a hot meal during the busy holiday season. Police Chief Paul King, Fire Chief William Sisson, City Solicitor Frank Milos, soon-to-be-retired Finance Director Ronald Wunschel and newly hired DPW Director Lance Hill were among the many municipal employees who gave up their lunch period to don plastic aprons and dish out individual plates of food that were then served to the seated guests.
Organizers say the holiday dinner dates back to Mayor Brian Sarault and has continued through the Metivier, Doyle and now Grebien administrations.
The full-course dinner, which began as a service to the needy but has since been opened to anyone in the community, is sponsored by donations of food, money and volunteer help by numerous area businesses and individuals. Shuttle service was provided from the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, City Hall, Fogarty Manor, St. Germain Manor, Slater House and Towers East.
Grebien noted that, as a longtime City Councilor, he had volunteered at several Mayor's Holiday Dinners in the past. He said that during the event's long history, the date had sometimes changed from around Thanksgiving to nearer to Christmas and one time, around Valentine's Day. He said that because so many dinners are held at Thanksgiving, his administration decided that the first weekend in December might work out better. “I think we'll keep it on this weekend going forward,” he said.
“I wanted to keep the tradition going. Especially in the current economy, as the need is so great,” Grebien said. “This is what government should be about,” he added, as he surveyed the tables filled with people happily eating and chatting with each other. “It brings you back to reality.”
Mary Lou Moran, director of the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, noted how many of the city's elderly, disabled and other residents look forward to the annual Mayor's Holiday Dinner. She added that for some in financial need, it is more than just a social event, but a meal that they depend on. “This is a wonderful event. And we're seeing a record number of people in need,” said Moran. “There are many people who are applying for services now who would not have done so before.”
A key to the longtime success of the Mayor's Holiday Dinner is volunteer Dan DaSilveira, a city employee who is the former owner of Greenhouse Caterers. DaSilveira puts his 30 years of restaurant and catering expertise to work by shopping for, preparing and cooking the dinner. This involved nearly 200 pounds of turkey meat, plus mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, and gravy.
Ken Noiseux, a retired captain on the Pawtucket Fire Department, has also pitched in with the kitchen help for many years. When the first batch of food was ready to be served, he said he and DaSilveira came upstairs and he led all of the volunteers to sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to kick off the event.
Duarte “Dewey” Farias, a city employee who is also the secretary general of the Portuguese Social Club, said the club is “more than happy to open our doors for this event. We're part of the community, and it helps out many in the community.”
According to Douglas Hadden, director of constituent services and communications for the mayor's office, the major financial contributors to the dinner included Bristol County Savings Bank, Pawtucket Credit Union, Washington Trust Company and AFSCME Local Union 1012.
Contributors of significant goods and in-kind services included Bachini's Bakery, Central Avenue Bakery, Coffee Express, Excellent Coffee Company, Golden Arches Enterprises, Gregg's Restaurant, Homestead Baking Company, Luzitania Baking Company, Pawtucket Credit Union, the Portuguese Social Club, Thomsen Food Service and Zaccagnini's Pastry Shoppe.