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Worcester family cooks and serves Sunday dinners for homeless


From left, Emma O'Connor, 12, her father Dennis, neighbor Roisin O'Malley, 12, Claire O'Connor, 14, her mother Mary O'Connor, Terry O'Connor, 12, and friend Brigid, 12, pause for a photo in the controlled chaos of the kitchen at their home in Worcester. The O’Connors cook at home on Sundays and serve the food to homeless people on Sunday nights at Ascension Church.

WORCESTER – The O’Connors give new meaning to serving dinner family style.

As a family, Dennis and Mary O’Connor and their children cook dinner at their home near Tatnuck Square on Sundays and serve it to homeless people, from November through March, through Net of Compassion. Two years ago, they began serving at St. John Church, then at North High School’s gym and now at Ascension Church.

Claire O'Connor, 14, and her brother Terry, 16, assemble enchiladas.

The O’Connors got involved as part of a service project for daughter Maggie at Holy Name High School. Maggie, 18, used to cook, clean and serve, but this fall she began her freshman year at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. The rest of the family has continued the Sunday tradition without her.

“The No. 1 reason I do it,” Dennis said, “is I want to teach my kids the importance of being a part of something and giving back.”

Terry O'Connor, 15, and his sister Emma, 12, are part of a family effort to cook and serve dinner to homeless people on Sundays.

“I like it,” said 16-year-old Terry, a junior at St. Paul Diocesan Junior Senior High School. “I think it’s a good thing to do, to help other people. It’s just a small thing you can do to make somebody happier, healthier, and make them feel loved.”

Normally, serving family style means to place the food on a table in serving dishes so people can help themselves. But in this case, the O’Connors cook and serve the food as a family.

Mary O’Connor oversees portions as the family and friends assemble enchiladas in the kitchen of the O'Connor home Sunday. They were preparing a dinner for about 50 people.

Mary shops for the food and she and 14-year-old Claire do most of the cooking for up to 50 homeless adults. Dennis, Terry, Claire and 12-year-old Emma deliver the food to what’s called Hotel Grace at Ascension Church and they serve it cafeteria style from behind plexiglass while wearing masks and gloves. When they’re done serving, they dine themselves.

“They all really enjoy the serving part of it and just helping out,” Mary said, “and for me, selfishly, it’s a time for us to be together and work together.”


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