STAMFORD—Who knew that volunteering in a soup kitchen could be social and fun? If you stopped by a Social Night of Service at New Covenant Center in Stamford, you would see that it certainly can be.
What exactly is Social Night of Service? It started as an initiative to engage young adults to volunteer at New Covenant Center (NCC), a soup kitchen and food pantry run by Catholic Charities of Fairfield County. The team at NCC started brainstorming around how to drum up interest among a younger demographic.
“We asked ourselves, what do young people like to do in their free time?” explained Ellen McGinness, director of marketing for Catholic Charities. “We figured that most of all, they like to socialize and meet others in their age group. So the challenge became, what kind of service opportunity could we create with a social element? From those initial concepts, Social Night of Service was born.”
But like any start-up event, the organizers worried about how to rally volunteers to show up. Enter Father Andy Vill, parochial vicar of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Stamford. Since Father Vill has a devoted following of young adults (he is only 29 years old himself), the team approached him for help. He was more than happy to jump in. “God created us for communion and friendship. All of us have that desire for friendship and Social Night of Service allows the friendship to be based on the greater purpose of service to those in need. Being able to serve alongside peers resonates, especially with young people,” he said.
Just ask some of the young adults from St. John’s who have participated. “It’s a fun night of giving back and you see the results of your work immediately. While you may not be solving world hunger in one night, you at least know you are solving it tomorrow for well over 100 people,” explained Kathryn Rambo, a regular volunteer. “One of the other biggest blessings is meeting other young adults who want to give back. I now consider many of the other volunteers my close friends.”
During a Social Night of Service event, volunteers arrive on a weekday night to prepare and cook 150+ meals that are served the next day to the hungry guests of NCC. Pop music is played over the loudspeakers, beverages and snacks are served, and when the ovens are turned off for the evening, the participants enjoy the meal they just prepared together.
Since it was such a hit with the young adults, the NCC team decided to reach out to local corporations, alumni associations and religious groups to see if they would be interested in having SNS nights of their own. That outreach initiative has taken off and attracted multiple new groups like MKTG, an advertising agency in Westport, and the Georgetown University Alumni Club of Fairfield County. “We are thrilled that this service opportunity is attracting people of different ages and demographics,” said John Gutman the executive director of New Covenant Center, “because it exposes them to the important work we do here and motivates them to get involved with our mission to feed the hungry.”
(To set up a Social Night of Service with your company, friends, religious group or alumni association, contact Ellen McGinness: firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.416.1441.)