Every other Saturday since 2007, Rod ’67 and Dorothy Woods Chronister ’66 have joined volunteers from their church in Manchester, N.H., to prepare lunches for community members in need of a hot meal.
During a typical week, Dorothy would lend her hand with cooking in the kitchen, while Rod helped with shopping or table setup. Roughly 50 guests would gather for food and fellowship, to charge their cellphones, or to pick up needed supplies, like new socks and underwear, snacks, or canned goods.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, the volunteers realized adjustments were needed to keep bellies full and participants safe.
“Other programs have had to cut back in providing meals,” says Rod, a retired physician and member of Manchester Vineyard Community Church. “Now, with the pandemic, there are even fewer options.”
Because of his medical background, Rod was consulted as a sort of “information officer” as the church’s pastor formed a response and strategy team. To aid in social distancing, the group decided to move their meals from the church’s building to a neighborhood park nearby.
Rather than a hot lunch, community members are now offered a “grab-and-go” meal of a brown bag, fruit, and a beverage. Guests are encouraged to maintain six feet of separation, while volunteers diligently disinfect tables and supplies. Hand sanitizer is provided for all participants, and Rod and Dorothy scrub down thoroughly upon arriving back at home, giving their outerwear a fresh laundering, too.
Although the clothing giveaways have been halted for now, more than 100 lunches were distributed during the church’s last effort — an incredible turnout underscoring the ongoing need in the community, perhaps now more than ever.
For Dorothy, a mindset of public service was reinforced by her experiences at Swarthmore.
“It’s gratifying to see guests scarfing down the food and asking for more,” she says. “We have learned names and some stories of many of our guests, and are pleased that some pitch in to help out.”
Rod adds that the church volunteer work “was a sly way of getting me gradually out of my comfort zone.”
“Believe it or not,” he adds, “I also told myself, ‘Hey, I’m a Swarthmore graduate — shouldn’t I be in on this kind of thing?’”