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Archives Dorothy Day Café dishes up food, community

April 24, 2024

By Darcy Fargo

“I feel like COVID caused us to lose some of our sense of community,” said Patty Moosbrugger, a parishioner and volunteer at St. Mary’s Church in Potsdam. “We thought we’d try to build some of that back.”

Moosbrugger and fellow parishioner Elizabeth Pietropaoli thought a monthly community dinner – open to everyone in the Potsdam area community, parishioners and non-parishioners – could help foster that missing community.

“Elizabeth and I met with Father Joe (Giroux, pastor of St. Mary’s in Potsdam and St. Patrick’s in Colton), and we asked for his permission,” Moosbrugger said. “When he agreed to the idea, we started talking about names. It became the Dorothy Day Café.”

A portrait of Day, a Catholic activist and social justice worker whose cause for canonization opened officially in 2000, hangs in the basement hall of St. Mary’s Church in Potsdam, the room where the café is held.

As part of their preparation process, Moosbrugger and a friend visited a community dinner held by Trinity Episcopal Church and reached out to the organizers of that dinner.

“We made sure to pick a day that wouldn’t compete with an existing community dinner,” she said. “We don’t want to detract from what others are doing. We wanted to add to it.”

When the Café opens for service in May, it will be celebrating its one-year anniversary. Organizers recently began working with various organizations and ministries within the parish – Knights of Columbus, Gabriel Project, confirmation classes… – to provide the meals.

“At first, we had just a core group of volunteers doing the meals,” she said at the April 10 dinner. “A few months ago, we sent letters to all the different ministries of our parish telling them about the café and giving specific examples of how they could help. Gabriel Project provided the food today. We’ve had the Knights of Columbus here grilling. Father (Bryan) Stitt came and did some grilling for us.”

In addition to serving food, volunteers take time to sit and chat or eat with people attending the meal, served at no cost.

“We want people to feel welcome,” Moosbrugger said. “And we don’t worry about the numbers. We trust whoever is meant to be here will be here. It’s a nice ambiance, and the food is good.”

Toward that goal, all meals are served on “real plates, “real silverware,” not paper plates and plastic utensils, and the tables always have linens on them.

Some months, the dinners or other offerings were themed around nearby holidays.

“We did chocolates for veterans in November for Veterans Day,” she said. “We’ve had music a few times, including music and dancing for St. Patrick’s Day. We had a table of books to give away near National Book Lover’s Day. For Valentine’s Day, the kids at Siena Academy made valentines with messages for us to give to the people who came that month.”

The café has been warmly received so far.

“The food is always good, and I’ve met people I might not otherwise meet – people from the parish and people from the community,” Moosbrugger said. “It’s been really nice.”

Gerard Monnat, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Potsdam and regular café attendee, agreed.

“I used to go to Trinity Episcopal when they did it before COVID,” he said. “When St. Mary’s started doing it, I wanted to be involved. My dad was a deacon in Syracuse. He liked to go serve at the rescue mission all the time. I look at the way he reached out to people who had nothing. It’s like Dorothy Day reaching out to people who had nothing. That’s what the Church is for.”

Moosbrugger said she also hopes the café will help people become more familiar with Dorothy Day.

“It’s nice for us as Catholics to be familiar with Dorothy Day and her work to build unity and community and love,” she said.

The Dorothy Day Café meals are held the second Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the basement hall at St. Mary’s Church in Potsdam. The entrance to the café is at the rear of the building.

Meals are advertised through local media and through fliers around town.

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