On a Friday night at Grace and St. Peter’s Church in Hamden, Mary Ellen Porcelli is in the kitchen working her magic.
“It was my grandmother’s recipe actually,” she said as she continued whipping up a family meal for 50 people.
“Swedish meatballs, cream gravy, egg noodles,” Porcelli said, moving around the kitchen. It’s the same way they’ve done it every Friday for the last eight years.
“It’s a social event, and that’s for the people that do the work as well as our guests,” said Porcelli.
Allison Batson came up with the idea of a weekly community dinner in 2011, bringing people together for a tasty meal at an appetizing price.
“What’s special about Dinner for a Dollar is that it’s a community,” said Batson. She added that many volunteers and guests know each other and share details of their lives with each other. But it’s not an exclusive dining club.
“Even if it’s your first time coming here, you’re welcomed and you feel welcomed,” said Batson.
No matter your age, your income, or your race, the Grace and St. Peter’s Church family will have a warm welcome and a hot meal ready for you every Friday.
The teams serve about 50 people each week and up to 100 on holidays. The $1 contribution helps offset the cost of the meal and allows people to contribute what they can to dinner.
“It isn’t just for people that don’t have enough to eat, although that’s an important aspect, but people that are alone and don’t cook for themselves,” said Porcelli.
The meals started off slowly, but the dinner tables have grown to include people from North Haven and New Haven.
Fred Tucker joined the meal two years ago. He’s from just over the line in New Haven. He told NBC Connecticut that he drove past the Dinner for a Dollar sign often and kept saying he would try it out.
“You can’t beat it. You got some good cooks here,” said Tucker.
Putting dinner together doesn’t necessarily require a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but it does call for volunteers to roll up their sleeves each week.
The church credits the United Way with help, and each week volunteers donate food, drinks, napkins and desserts.
“Each person decides the dinner and plans the menu, and comes here to cook it here,” said Batson. “They’ll plan the entre which is usually a protein, a starch and a vegetable.”
News of the weekly fellowship and tasty food spreads by word of mouth.
“Where else you gonna get a nice dinner for a dollar anywhere,” said Tucker.
Batson said the price of the dinner makes the meal affordable for everyone who walks through the doors and it helps make the world a little smaller one meal at a time. She says everyone has the capacity to share the spirit of Dinner for a Dollar.
“It could be inviting your elderly neighbor over for lunch. It could be taking the trash out for someone that you know is having a hard time,” said Batson. “I think all of us have the capacity to help our neighbors and help each other and build community from that.”
The goal is to have a Dinner for a Dollar meal available every night in Hamden and the meals could be on the way. Dinner for a Dollar debuted on Saturday.
If you’d like to help, the church said gift cards for grocery stores are a great way to contribute to dinner.