MUSCATINE — This Saturday, like many before, Mary Louise Caponette will be serving spaghetti at Muscatine Center for Social Action.
“I’m going to make spaghetti this weekend because I’m sure by now everyone is turkey-ed out,” Caponette said.
Caponette is 95 years old and has been the organizing force behind the Loaves and Fish Dinner for almost 22 years. The meal has become somewhat of a staple for anyone looking for a hot meal Saturday.
“We’ve been there 26 years,” Caponette said. “We serve a meal every Saturday. Loaves and Fishes is what we do to reach out to anybody that needs a meal. We have a different church every week that will bring people to serve the food.
The cooking begins when Caponette and volunteers come in Saturday morning with the ingredients. They use the kitchen at MCSA to get the meals ready for serving time between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
“The idea is to have different churches, organizations and people from the community that would like to help,” Caponette said. “It’s about people reaching out to others in the community.”
Though ingredients for the meal come from Loaves and Fishes, they do take donations and contributions of food. She said that some of her favorite meals they’ve prepared have come that way.
“The Knights (of Columbus) for instance supplied us with pulled pork that they provided for the meal so I made these pulled pork sandwiches,” Caponette said. “They are very simple meals. Nothing fancy.”
She said that there is desert and all-you-can-drink milk for diners.
“(The meal) is really very central especially at (MCSA),” Caponette said. “They may not have a kitchen and so we get many of them. We get families that are living there. Some of them get tired of heating up a sandwich in the microwave.”
Though she always has a hand in the food, Caponette is a people person. During meal service, she drifts around the dinning room talking to longtime comers and new faces.
“We have people who’ve been living there for years and they still come down every week,” Caponette said. “I try to talk to them and welcome them when they come in and tell them to come back again. You don’t just put the food down. Some people may not have anyone to talk to until the next week.”
She is particular about not letting people serve themselves. On one hand, that’s about what the volunteers are there to do, service. On the other, it’s part of her vision for helping those who come.
“Some people are in pretty bad shape when they get there,” Caponette said. “They aren’t healthy. Maybe they have leg trouble. We are there to serve them. That is really important. They shouldn’t have to go up to the kitchen window to get a meal.
She said that the thing that gets her to MCSA every Saturday morning is the feeling she gets during the meal.
“It gives me a great deal of warmth and feeling that I’m reaching out to people,” Caponette said. “That even if they have a safe place, there are people that aren’t talking to them. I feel like it is part of my job to help people and let them know that I’m here.”