When Jim Fedak Jr. was 9 years old, he knew what he wanted to be.
Most boys imagine themselves as firemen, rock stars and professional athletes.
Jim, however, wanted to feed the hungry, his mother Marie says. And today he does.
It was an ambition that inspired him from an early age and continued through his teen years, when he volunteered at soup kitchens and food pantries in Florida until eventually, his dream became a reality.
With a lot of work and the dedicated assistance of his wife Janette, his family and friends, Jim developed the Master’s Table Community Meals, a volunteer organization that offers food, hope and assistance to the less fortunate.
He says Master’s Table, which was established as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2013, relies mostly on private donations to serve free meals to the homeless, the unemployed, seniors, veterans and low-to-moderate income families, providing food and fellowship twice a month in a communal setting.
“Since I was very young, I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” Jim said. “I worked in human services for 15 years and volunteered in soup kitchens when I lived in Florida for 11 years. When I came to Connecticut, I realized we could do something here. You could call it a God moment.”
The idea had been in his mind for years, and he believes God put it in his heart. He discussed it with his wife Janette and later with Mark Riccio of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Trumbull, whom he met at a Bluefish baseball game in Bridgeport. They held an organizational meeting with several others, including parishioners from St. Joseph Church and St. Lawrence’s in Shelton … and then put their ideas into action.
Mark, who is a senior accountant at Bigelow Tea, quotes St. Vincent de Paul, and says, “Those who help the poor will have sunshine in their life and never have to worry on their judgment day.”
“It is very easy to get wrapped up in your own life,” he says. “The volunteers at Master’s Table could be doing a million other things and choose to give up their Sundays to help put on this meal. It’s one thing to go to church 55 minutes on Sunday, and it’s another thing to live it.”
Mark works in the kitchen at the community meals, which are held the second and fourth Sunday of the month at Church of the Assumption in Ansonia. He assists professional chef Vinny LaRocca of St. Lawrence’s, in preparing up to 150 meals for the guests at the community gathering, in addition to the homebound and a women’s shelter.
Vinny, who has worked in the food services industry throughout his career, including for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Fordham University, says good home cooking is one of the reasons the meals are so popular. At a special sit-down event in June, he and his staff prepared roast beef with mashed potatoes and green beans, along with salad and strawberry shortcake.
When the group started, they approached several churches about Master’s Table. Jim said their first meal attracted only 23 guests, which grew to 28 and eventually 100 or more, depending upon the time of year.
“‘Master’s Table’ refers to the Last Supper,” he says. “Christ welcomed anybody at his table — saints, sinners, prostitutes, the poor, and we follow the same philosophy.”
In addition to the meals, there is blood pressure screening, a Giveaway Table with clothes, books and other necessities, along with bouquets of flowers for the guests. In addition, the organization has a Community Assistance program that obtains items such as microwaves and winter coats for needy individuals. They recently launched an Emergency Food Assistance service, which provides people with a bag of non-perishable groceries in crisis situations.
“We work really hard to give our guests a good experience,” Jim says. “It’s not only the food but also the socialization. For some people, this is the only interaction they have. People make friends and start talking. The social component is very important. We provide a good home-cooked meal andget raves from our guests.”
The volunteers return regularly to help. Marie Viglione, Jim’s mother, and his aunt Dolores Tiberi, both from St. Lawrence Church, come to every meal to greet guests and pass out beverages. Stacey Bernasconi of St. Thomas Church in Oxford, who has been with the group for seven years, said, “We see a lot of new people every month from throughout the area, and at Christmas we adopt a family.”
Sue Ignatowski of Ansonia, who works at the Giveaway Table said, “I felt like I wanted to give back and this has been one of the most rewarding things I could do.”
Marie Moura of St. Joseph Church, is on the organization’s board and works in the kitchen. She had been volunteering at a soup kitchen in Bridgeport when Chef Vinny told her about Master’s Table.
“I like to help people and make them smile,” she said. “Master’s Table helps me realize there are so many people out there in need. Sometimes we’re so busy with our own lives that we don’t realize people are worse off than we are.”
She believes that in her own small way she can change the world … through a smile, a hug, simple compassion and listening to another person.
“I love to listen to their stories,” she says. “I feel like I’m doing God’s work. When Jesus was on Earth, he helped people and made them smile and listened to their problems.”
Jim says that attitude is fundamental to the mission of Master’s Table: “To feed all who are hungry and do so willingly and with compassion and understanding.”
He believes God led him to the fulfillment of his childhood dream. “It is something how God works,” he says. “He puts the idea in your mind and your heart … and all you have to do is act on it.”
For more information, visit www.masterstablemeals.org or call 203.732.7792.