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Marie Mordarski has taken on the role of volunteer/program coordinator for non-profit Community Dining Room (CDR), which serves the shoreline including Guilford. CDR has just announced it will resume in-person volunteer training with a special session on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 5 p.m. at CDR, 30 Harrison Avenue in Branford. (Photo courtesy of the Community Dining Room )
At a time when programming and in-person volunteering looks quite different at many non-profits, Marie Mordarski has taken on the role of volunteer/program coordinator for non-profit Community Dining Room (CDR). From its Branford location, CDR offers a variety of free meal programs for the food insecure across the shoreline and serves towns stretching from East Haven to Old Saybrook, including Guilford.
CDR also collaborates with licensed agencies, including Guilford-based Women & Family Life Center, to provide a multitude of services for shoreline residents who may need help with other issues they may be experiencing in addition to food insecurity.
CDR is also encouraging the public to be aware that September is Hunger Action Month, which calls on people nationwide to “take a stand against hunger” by getting involved, including volunteering. After working with local public health officials, CDR has just announced it will resume in-person volunteer training that had been halted for months due to the pandemic. Interested volunteers are asked to sign up in advance for the newly-announced training session, which is set for Wed., Sept. 30, at 5 p.m. at CDR, 30 Harrison Ave. in Branford. Space is limited to allow for social distancing. Masks must be worn during training. To register, email Marie at email@example.com
Marie brings her enthusiasm and appreciation for all that volunteers can give, based on personal and previous experience. She has a dozen years of volunteer coordinating experience working with church members at a what she simply describes as a Connecticut-based church where she served as director of children’s ministries. In addition to also spending many years volunteering as a church member herself, Marie and her husband, Egon, currently volunteer in their hometown of North Branford with the North Branford Land Trust.
“Volunteers are so valuable, and they do it all without getting a paycheck,” says Marie. “That’s why I love working with volunteers, because they’re always passionate about what they’re doing. They’re giving of their time and their talents, and they’re having fun being there.”
That said, relying on a base of volunteers during a pandemic is new to everyone, says Marie, who started her new job with CDR at the beginning of August.
“I think that I’m starting at a time when things are much different than they would be than if we were fully functioning. But I’m kind of looking forward to that,” says Marie. “I’m learning this job while I’m working with volunteer teams that are smaller, because we have to do more with less people.”
The same could be said for programming, which is taking place differently in this “new normal” of the pandemic, Marie says.
“Eventually, things are going to open up and we’re going to be able to do more of our programming and we’re going to be offering more of our services,” says Marie. “I’m looking forward to that, because some of the things that have been done here are things that I know I would really like.”
While some things may have changed, the mission of CDR has stayed the same: to provide nutritious meals, delivered in many forms and through several programs, for those in need from East Haven to Old Saybrook.
During her first month on the job, Marie’s been working with CDR’s reduced corps of volunteers who remain at the nucleus, helping to get things done during the pandemic, including packing up and passing out meals made in the CDR kitchen for lunch and dinner curbside delivery. Others are there to prepare, package, and deliver meals to those in their homes who rely on meal deliveries from CDR in Branford and North Branford.
“We can’t serve a meal at CDR without our volunteers,” says Marie.
Responding to a Need
Area residents’ requests for CDR assistance ticked up dramatically beginning in March 2020, due to those experiencing job loss and other setbacks from COVID-19. Requests for assistance rose steadily through June, says CDR Executive Director Judy Barron.
“Numbers seem to have leveled off; however you always discover something new that comes with something new, and a pandemic for us is definitely new,” says Barron.
Response to some programs offered at CDR during the pandemic have resulted in an ongoing call for assistance and will continue to be offered, says Barron. For example, CDR’s twice-monthly free Friday night meal program became a weekly pick-up offering during the pandemic and will continue to be offered weekly going forward.
In her work, Marie also works with volunteers from local organizations which assist CDR, such as coordinating with groups from clubs and businesses coming in monthly to give the kitchen crew a break by providing and cooking meals at CDR.
“I’m amazed by these organizations which have continue to help, even with the COVID-19 restrictions. They come out every month to cook a meal, and they bring a small group with them because we’re not allowed to have too many in the kitchen,” says Marie. “You don’t have to twist arms to bring in these people—they’re doing it because they love it. That could be said for all of our volunteers. They really love to be here, helping.”
Marie has also been delighted to find so many current volunteers have been with CDR for a long time.
“I just spoke with someone who said he’s been volunteering here for 15 years. That speaks volumes about CDR. You’re not going to keep volunteering if you don’t feel like what you’re contributing is valuable to the organization,” says Marie. “I think volunteers need to feel what they’re doing makes a difference, and I think they feel that here. I definitely want to make sure they’re having that experience.”
In addition, community members and business representatives continue to reach out to CDR to help.
“When I go home every day, I tell my husband how it’s just so nice to see people swing by and drop off items they’ve collected or want to contribute,” says Marie. “Every time you look outside, someone is dropping something off. People are so generous.”