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HomeNewsCommunityA VOLUNTEER'S STORY: DiGregorio cooks up 'Italian-style' meals for St. Vincent

A VOLUNTEER’S STORY: DiGregorio cooks up ‘Italian-style’ meals for St. Vincent

Editor’s note: According to Volunteer Canada, International Volunteer Day takes place every year on Dec. 5 to shine a light on the impact of volunteer efforts everywhere. The Chronicle is proud to tell the story of community volunteers.

Although Rosa DiGregorio has been a volunteer at St. Vincent Pallotti’s Soup Kitchen and thrift store in Oshawa for more than eight years she still leaves each shift with the same “good feeling.”

DiGregorio, 72, started volunteering with St. Vincent to give back to the less fortunate in her community.

She started in the kitchen as a server before moving to a cooking position with her friend Tonia Colagiacomo, 65.

“Our job was just to cook,” said DiGregorio. “We go and cook in the morning…then the second shift will go there (to serve.)”

Colagiacomo remembers when the kitchen received a surplus of whole frozen chickens from a restaurant that closed down. She said her and Digregorio had to be creative coming up with different ways to prepare it.

But since the beginning of March, St. Vincent’s kitchen remains closed to the public.

“It’s been closed since COVID started,” said DiGregorio. “It closed before the restaurants did.”

St. Vincent’s has been in the process of relocating the kitchen to a new building in downtown Oshawa at 227 Simcoe St. S.

St. Vincent has been serving meals at its current location at 51 King St. in downtown Oshawa for 30 years. DiGregorio said one of the biggest reasons for the move is because the building and kitchen are aged and could no longer support the kitchen staff.

“Everything has been there for a while, it’s old now… the building is old,” DiGregorio said.

The soup kitchen’s first meal was served Oct. 15, 1990 and they have been providing warm dinners in the same building to more than 50,000 people annually since.

Prior to COVID-19, the soup kitchen was open from 3-5 p.m.
Prior to COVID-19, the soup kitchen was open from 3-5 p.m. Photo credit: Courtesy of Durham Outlook

According to Durham Outlook, operators of the kitchen and store, the new building is set to open sometime next year and is described as modern and fully accessible.

DiGregorio said the closure upset a lot of people who frequently went to the soup kitchen for dinner.

“We still volunteer at the second-hand store,” said DiGregorio. “They all ask, ‘when is the kitchen going to open?’…they all miss it.”

She said since the closure she has missed going to cook.

“We make it Italian-style,” said DiGregorio adding, “everyone used to say we make the best food.”

Meal Prep – Photo was taken pre-pandemic
Prepping food for dinner at St. Vincent kitchen in downtown Oshawa pre-pandemic. Photo credit: Courtesy of Durham Outlook

The soup kitchen asks patrons to pay $1.50. DiGregorio said that includes a salad, meal, drink, and dessert. However, if anyone is unable to pay, they will not be turned away.

Prior to COVID-19, the soup kitchen was open from 3-5 p.m. and it was rare to have a quiet shift – especially, around the holidays.

DiGregorio said they normally cook for between 150 and 220 people per day.

Despite the kitchen being closed, DiGregorio continues to volunteer at the thrift store every Wednesday.

All the clothing and knick-knacks at the store are donated and re-sold at a low price, she said.

Funds raised from what they sell at the thrift store go towards the kitchen.

DiGregorio said even though all the food is donated by various wholesalers like Costco they still need to purchase things like butter, oil and spices.

The “good feeling” she gets from volunteering at St. Vincent’s and being able to give back to her community is her biggest highlight.

“It’s good to give back,” said DiGregorio.