Volunteers Adapt, Serve Up 300 To-Go Dinners to Support Church They Love

As lawmakers in the state legislature begin their work for 2021, Colorado Senior Lobby President Robert Brocker has a reminder for them: the contributions and value of older Coloradans is significant. $20.1 billion dollars annually significant.

A 2018 report, The Community Assessment Survey for Older Adults (CASOA), tracked everything from the strength of 16 Colorado regions in supporting older adults, to the changing and estimated needs of the population as it grows. Currently Coloradans 60 and older make up 21% of the state population. By 2050 they’ll be 26%.

Colorado Senior Lobby turned portions of the report’s 82 pages of data and analysis into an infographic highlighting things like consumer spending and voting trends, alongside taxes and other economic contributions. Brocker hopes lawmakers will keep this data handy as they look at the dollar signs next to programs for seniors in state budget proposals this session.

Tucked into the CASOA report was a figure reminding me of a conversation I had recently with Gloria Volpe, longtime North Denver resident and active volunteer at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Historic Catholic Church. Older Coloradans contribute more than $1.5 billion in economic value annually to our state in the form of volunteer work. According to the report, 38% of older adults volunteer an average of 4.2 hours per week in roles that would be worth $18 an hour, if paid.

Photos by Jerry Petrocco, Chuck Bur, and Dominique Lillo.
Pasta Dinner To-Go, Our Lady of Mount
Carmel Historic Catholic Church.

But for Volpe and Co-President Mary Buzzelli-White of Mount Carmel’s Altar and Rosary Society, volunteering isn’t about average weekly hours or economic value to the state. It is about supporting a parish they love, their church at the corner of West 36th Avenue and Navajo Street. Their church has been central to North Denver’s Italian-American community since the late 1800’s.

Mount Carmel’s pastor, Rev. Hugh M. Guentner, O.S.M., took a moment to reflect one recent afternoon, “Volunteers? Volunteers are very important. They’re our life stream to maintaining our presence in Denver.” Mount Carmel is a church now for the broader Italian community, across Denver and state-wide.

When the pandemic required the church to switch gears abruptly in March 2020, Volpe and Buzzelli-White’s group joined forces with the Men’s Club, led by Paul Garrimone, and set to work making COVID-19 adaptations to fundraising activities that had served and supported Mount Carmel for years.

The annual church bazaar had to be set aside, so the volunteers replaced their usual meatball and sausage booths with a drive-thru pasta dinner, complete with meats and handmade sauce, finished off with traditional Italian pizzelles. They masked-up and took over the church’s industrial-sized kitchen to prep and package 300 to-go dinners.

Mount Carmel will offer something similar on March 21st in lieu of the parish’s annual St. Joseph’s Table event. Neighbors can tune into Mount Carmel’s social media for details on how to participate and for details on the parish’s February 17th Pasta Figioli meatless Ash Wednesday dinner.

For some, cleaning and chopping 77 boxes of peppers might sound intimidating, but Volpe and her group take it in stride. They have wholesale relationships, a well-equipped kitchen, and a devoted group of friends to volunteer with. And they’ve done this before. COVID-19? Of course, it has impacted them and their families. But when it comes to their efforts for the church, well, they just had to tweak a few things.

That blend of adaptability and perseverance? Now that, too, is significant.

Kathryn has lived in North Denver since around the time the Mount Carmel High School building was razed and its lot at 3600 Zuni became Anna Marie Sandoval Elementary. She’s raised two children in the neighborhood, worked at several nonprofits, and facilitates a Caregiver Support Group for the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter.

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