Good Samaritan Center feeds the community
For close to 25 years, Alice Mazzagatti and Mary Henning have been preparing free meals for the Hammonton Good Samaritan Center, which gives out free meals every Wednesday at the Hammonton Family Success Center, located at 310 Bellevue Ave.
Mazzagatti, who was a parishioner at St. Martin de Porres Church, said that she first became involved through fellow parishioner Joan Perna, who is also still affiliated with the Hammonton Good Samaritan Center.
“We used to have the soup nights and the Palm Sunday dinners, Joan and I worked together on them. When it started, she said to me, ‘Why don’t you come and work with me down here?’ I said OK, and that’s how I got here,” Mazzagatti said.
Henning, who used to attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, said that her association had a similar beginning.
“Cindy Shoyer, our first president was a member, and that’s how I got involved,” Henning said.
Mazzagatti said that religious organizations were heavily involved at the time.
“We started out with the Hammonton Ministerium, and St. Mark’s and St. Martin’s. Then, the Baptists would come and help, and they would donate money once a month, whenever they would come,” Mazzagatti said.
Tricia Donio, the director of the Hammonton Family Success Center, said that everyone involved with the Good Samaritan Center are longtime volunteers.
“They’re an amazing group of people ... They’ve been doing it for years, and they run off of donations,” Donio said.
Mazzagatti explained further.
“Cindy Shoyer was a member of St. Mark’s, and she teamed up with Joe Garrity. He had gotten stuff, when they first started, from the casinos. At one time, when they first started, they used to go to the food bank in Pleasantville, but we no longer do that. Judy Stone is with us now, and Donna Silverman, and John and Kathy Ashton,” Mazzagatti said.
Donio noted that the center is funded by donations only.
“They’re always looking for donations, because that’s how they make these meals: strictly off of donations,” Donio said.
Mazzagatti said that the community has been very generous in that regard.
“I had a man from out of town, in November, December and January. I had put on Facebook on that we serve dinners, and if anybody wanted any to call the success center, and that they’re free unless you want to donate. He read it, and he sent me a check for $300. In the memo, it said ‘Feed the people.’ December, I got another check for $300 from the same man; feed the people. January, I got another check for $300; feed the people ... Two years ago, when Victory Bible Church had their yard sale, we were recipients of that money. They gave us $4,000. I have that, plus what the man gave me, so I can afford to do this right now, but if I don’t keep getting donations?” Mazzagatti said.
To ensure that the Good Samaritan Center makes the most with its donations, Mazzagatti said that she and Henning do all of the shopping, and that they “watch for the sales.”
“I buy it when it’s on sale or I don’t buy it. This week, they had chicken breasts on sale. So, I buy chicken breasts. I’ll make some kind of a casserole, or chicken chili; a couple weeks ago we had cheesy chicken sandwiches, chicken a la king, whatever I can come up with. I’m tired of doing macaroni and chicken, so I said, ‘OK, hamburger time.’ Next week we may end up doing a sausage and broccoli bake; everybody likes it, so we’ll see what happens. I might make that; I never know until the last minute. If you go to buy a pound of sausage now, how much is it going to cost you? I bought it when it was on sale for $1.99, so that makes a big difference on how long this money’s lasting,” Mazzagatti said.
In order to best track the funds, Mazzagatti said that they utilize a debit card and $100 ShopRite gift cards.
“When I’m shopping it’s not coming out of my pocket. When she’s shopping, it’s not coming out of her pocket. When her gift card goes down, she lets me know, and then I get another one and that’s how we work that,” Mazzagatti said.
Henning agreed, and noted that they “get every penny out of a $100 gift card.”
“We squeeze Lincoln until he says ‘Enough is enough,’” Henning said.
Mazzagatti said that several businesses have also contributed to the Good Samaritan Center, which she is quick to point out is not just a soup kitchen.
“The problem with it being called a soup kitchen is that people think we serve only soup—which we serve soup once in a while and it’s homemade—but we have a lot more. Lucca’s Bakery gives us a break on the rolls. Rocco’s Town House donates the soup containers on the nights we do have soup,” Mazzagatti said.
Henning said that, before the pandemic forced the closure of the Good Samaritan Center’s indoor activities, they were serving more than 50 meals each Wednesday.
“That’s not counting seconds,” Henning said.
“They would come, they would eat, they would donate a dollar—if they had it; if they didn’t, they didn’t donate—they had seconds, then they would leave. Now that we’re not open here, I’ve been doing anywhere from 40 to 60 dinners takeout, depending on the week. What happens is, people say that they called but they’re not on the list, so I try to make a little extra just in case that happens,” Mazzagatti said.
Mazzagatti said that donations are appreciated but are by no means necessary to receive the meal.
“If you want to donate, you do. Some people donate when they pick up. Some people don’t, which is why we’re here: because people need to eat. We do what we can do,” Mazzagatti said.
Donio said that it was her hope that more people will take advantage of the Good Samaritan Center.
“It’s a free meal. They box it up; all you have to do is swing in the parking lot. You sign up through our Facebook page, and there’s a tab on there. We usually put it up Fridays, then you register for how many meals you’d like, and you swing by and pick it up,” Donio said.
Henning said that interested parties can also call Donio at the Hammonton Family Success Center.
“She takes the phone calls and gets us the count. They’re very important to running this,” Henning said.
Mazzagatti agreed with Henning.
“Call the Hammonton Family Success Center. Give them your name, how many dinners you would like. The cutoff is Tuesday at 3 p.m., and then dinner is on Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.,” Mazzagatti said.
For more information, or to place an order, visit the Hammonton Family Success Center’s Facebook or call (609) 567-2900.