By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 26, 2015
ATHENS—The volunteer cooks arrived before dawn—around 5:30 a.m.—to warm the ovens at the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia. There were six turkeys to prepare, 30 pounds of potatoes to peel and mash, along with 10 dozen biscuits to bake.
For the 20th year in a row, the kitchen buzzed to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Sunday, Nov. 22, that would later be driven a few miles away to the Jesse B. Denney Tower, home to low-income senior citizens.
“It’s a good time of the year to reach out to others beyond our direct family. It’s a good project everyone at the Catholic Center seems to enjoy before the frenzy of Christmas,” said Cathy Clutter, director of the UGA prelaw program who has led this effort for the past few years.
She has been involved in the project for about 15 years, mostly focused on decorations and the table centerpieces that seniors can then take home to decorate their apartments.
Without the financial support and many hands to do the shopping, prepping, cooking, delivery, serving and clean up, the Thanksgiving celebration doesn’t happen. More than three-dozen people volunteered this year for this act of service. Since university students are off for the Thanksgiving break, it is the families and youngsters active at the Catholic Center who serve in much of this ministry.
“It reflects the community that we have at the Catholic Center,” Clutter said. “We have a very action-oriented community.”
Jesse Nunez, 21, a UGA senior studying management information systems, joined his parents for the first time. Gary and Lisa Nunez have volunteered for the past few years, but Jesse’s university schedule conflicted with this ministry. This year Nunez mashed potatoes, chopped vegetables and carved turkey.
“I just went wherever I was needed and helped,” he said.
“It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it,” he said. A highlight was when he drove with the prepared food to the waiting senior citizens.
“They were really happy to see us. That was probably the best thing about it—just seeing the people there,” he said.
Julie Barkley worked alongside her teenage daughter, Reed, preparing the food, making cornbread dressing, slicing pies and cutting vegetables.
“There were so many volunteers, it was quick,” she said.
The hours spent in the kitchen put the holidays in perspective. It’s rewarding to be working for a greater good, she said.
“Taking time out for others helps you realize you aren’t as important as you think you are,” said Barkley, a stay-at-home mom and member of the Catholic Center.
“In the grand scheme of things, we didn’t do a ton. For me, it is just to take a breath. Holidays don’t need to be stressful,” she said.
Denney Tower, in downtown Athens, is part of the Athens Housing Authority. Some 70 residents enjoyed the meal. Those who are too ill to come downstairs have a boxed meal prepared and delivered.
Small gestures of appreciation remain with Clutter. Last year, as the meal wrapped up, a volunteer played songs on the piano as the seniors added their voices to the singing.
Clutter has long been involved with outreach, at her former parish, St. Patrick Church, Norcross, and then in Athens. Also her children got involved in community service events when they attended St. Joseph School, Athens. Clutter’s mother had served senior citizens so she admittedly has a soft spot for these men and women in public housing.
“When the pope has said to reach out to the people on the margins, these people are definitely on the margins,” Clutter said. “It affirmed this is something we should be doing.”