FITCHBURG — Gratitude and camaraderie were in the air during the meal served at Our Father’s Table on Feb. 23, the 40th anniversary celebration for the outreach program that has faithfully served the greater community for decades.
Longtime Director and city resident Brenda Quidoz was on hand along with the legion of dedicated volunteers who prep, cook, and serve hot meals every Tuesday and Thursday out of the basement of Faith Christian Church at 40 Boutelle Road. Quidoz was quick credit to the longevity and success of the program to the dozens of volunteers on the roster, many who have been with the program for years, including a group of four young adults she gifted with passes to Great Wolf Lodge.
“They’ve been doing this since they were little, they deserve this,” she said of the three siblings and one other who gladly give of their time every single week.
The first meeting about forming an outreach program to serve the needy was held among local church leaders in January 1983. Just a little over a month later, the first meal was served on Feb. 22 at Christ Church on Main Street and in April of 2008, Our Father’s Table moved to Faith Christian Church.
Quidoz has been the director of the outreach program where everyone is welcome for over 20 years. She proudly showed off and posed for a photo with some of the younger volunteers beside a sign in front of the church that lists the names of the over 600 volunteers who have helped in one way or another since its inception.
She walked around and welcomed the guests who came for the special anniversary dinner that consisted of prime rib, roasted potatoes, and fresh butternut squash with apples. The meal started with minestrone soup donated by Olive Garden, one of the many local businesses who regularly contribute food and goods to Our Father’s Table.
“Hannaford is great, BJs, Joyce Pies and Bakery, Dutch Kitchen, Olive Garden, they donate every week like clockwork,” Quidoz said of their community partners that also includes area restaurants and more such as Brady’s, Colonial Hotel, Comekoto Brazilian Steakhouse, Happy Jack’s, Slattery’s, St. Francis of Assisi, Baptist Church of Westminster, and Great Wolf Lodge.
In addition, Life Care and The Highlands, whom Quidoz said “are just amazing,” regularly cook many of meals they serve and there are others who also donate.
“Emanuel Lutheran Church just brought us a bunch of canned goods,” Quidoz said of the Fitchburg house of worship.
They put out 150 meals a week like clockwork, even during the pandemic. Doors open and seating starts at 4:45 p.m. and dinner is served promptly at 5 to who Quidoz affectionately calls “our guests” by the smiling, cheerful volunteers.
On top of the meals offered to homeless and food-insecure individuals — or those who may just want a home-cooked dinner and some company — Our Father’s Table also has a food pantry and upstairs there is a clothing closet run by the church.
Bags imprinted with the Our Father’s Table logo were available for the guests and volunteers to take home in honor of the anniversary. Guests filled the bags with Valentine’s Day candy, pastries, pens, keychain flashlights, and more.
“They get to pick what they want,” Quidoz conveyed.
The prepacked volunteer bags included a 40th anniversary mug and chocolate covered cherries, which bargain hunter Quidoz scored on sale after Valentine’s Day.
“These are our regulars, some come once a week some come twice a week,” she said of the 15 or so volunteers who helped out at the anniversary meal and took home goodies. “Everybody just steps in and does what needs to be done.”
Quidoz pointed out that husband and wife team Eric and Anne Knutson of Lunenburg have been cooking their meals for a long time and she offered up a prayer after dinner was served, something written by one of the organization’s board members that she tweaked a bit for the occasion.
“Thank you, Father, for allowing us this opportunity to serve you and all who come to your table,” she read.
One of the regulars, Chuck Valcourt, declared the first course some “good soup.” A woman sitting enjoying the meal was overheard saying she used to come a lot and that she is not homeless anymore.
The trio of people plating the meal have been part of Our Father’s Table for quite some time. Ed Kukkula of Leominster said he started helping out 13 years ago and Debbie Santucci for seven or eight years. Her son Michael Santucci started joining her a year ago and now comes regularly like his mom.
“We enjoy being able to do what we do for the people,” Kukkula said of what he enjoys about being part of it, with Michael Santucci adding “a hot meal puts a smile on their face.”
“Sometimes they come just to get out of the house, they get a warm meal, they get to socialize,” Debbie Santucci said. “We enjoy getting to know them.”
City resident Lorelei McClure said she and her family have been volunteering with Our Father’s Table for a long time and that back in the day, they were there “almost every day.”
“We used to do it when it was a homeless feeding program, we used to help out all the time,” she said. “It’s always been a family affair.”
She and her son partook in the meal with her adorable dog, Prince Charming, in tow. McClure said she used to live two streets down from the church and was a special education teacher at Sizer School for years. She had retired but when her husband passed away two years ago, she decided to go back as a substitute teacher.
“We’ve always been a part of it,” she said of Our Fathers Table.
Fellow educator Liz Ahlin, who was a guidance counselor in the Gardner Public Schools system for over 30 years, cut the gigantic chocolate anniversary cake frosted in white that was donated by Joyce Pies and Bakery. The Ashburnham resident said she has been a part of Our Father’s House “for years.”
“I just looked it up one day and met Brenda and haven’t looked back,” she said of how she came across it.
She thanked the young volunteer who helped hand out the to go boxes filled with delicious cake. When asked why she keeps coming back to help at Our Father’s House week after week, Ahlin said it’s simple.
“Because I can. I am so fortunate.”