BANGOR, Maine — Many of them carried ribbons for their achievements at the Special Olympics, others were eager to boast about lending a helping hand, and some simply wore a smile because they were happy to be there.
As a result, the atmosphere was vibrant at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Bangor on Wednesday morning while a group of special needs volunteers prepared to serve a full-course meal to more than 100 people expected to visit the dining hall, which is operated by The Salvation Army.
The volunteers, a group of local residents with developmental disabilities, were working through the Bangor Community Supports Program run by Downeast Horizons, a social services provider for Penobscot, Piscataquis, Waldo and Hancock counties.
The program provides volunteers with the building blocks of social skills, in addition to enhancing their daily lives through productive activities, according to Tony Zambrano, executive director of Downeast Horizons.
“This is a way for people who usually receive services to make a difference and give back to their communities in a meaningful way,” said Zambrano, with nothing short of pride in his voice as he oversaw the group’s work in the kitchen.
On Wednesday morning, the group was hard at work over hot stoves and busy opening canned vegetables and wiping off tables for a lunch service that was set to begin at 11:30 a.m., all while the city’s less fortunate waited hungrily in the lobby of The Salvation Army building on South Park Street.
Volunteer Larry Kennedy, 64, who lives with his aunt in Bangor, was scrubbing dishes and standing watch over a spotless work station where he showcased his duties and opened a dishwasher full of steaming-hot dishes.
“You gotta keep up with them [dishes]; this thing gets hot if you don’t,” he said. Kennedy described the work as “fun,” and said he would rather clean up than cook, which he said wasn’t his strong suit.
“I like luggin’ things around — it’s good for an old guy like me,” Kennedy said laughing.
Standing next to Kennedy was Dennis Plourde, 60, also from Bangor. Plourde, who is described by Downeast Horizon’s staff as the “workhorse of the group,” was wearing a large red apron and moving about the kitchen checking on things and living up to his reputation.
After Plourde described how his main duty was to butter bread for a meal consisting of ravioli, salad, vegetables and cake for dessert, he was quick to display his ribbons for winning both the 100-meter walk and the softball toss at the Special Olympics.
“It’s really important to help out around town and give back to people,” he added.
In addition to Plourde and Kennedy, four other volunteers of varied ages were on hand to help.
The group volunteers at the soup kitchen twice a month, according to Sheila Fowler, a staff member at Downeast Horizons. What’s more, says Zambrano, the group volunteers weekly at other locations in Greater Bangor, including Eastern Maine Medical Center and Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Brewer.
Capt. Tim Clark, who oversees The Salvation Army’s Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, said he can count on the group to prepare a good meal and be there on short notice if requested.
“These guys are really very effective and they are one of the most reliable groups we have volunteering here,” he said. “Their service is invaluable, and they have worked to fill a void here at the soup kitchen that goes above and beyond what we expect from our volunteers.”