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St. Vincent center hails its volunteers

Ninety-four-year-old Stella Walkowski, right, waves to other volunteers arriving Sunday for the tribute to volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Resource Center.
Ninety-four-year-old Stella Walkowski, right, waves to other volunteers arriving Sunday for the tribute to volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Resource Center.
Joe Bauman, Deseret Morning News

A few years ago, Ida Brunatti decided she was getting too slow on her feet to continue working as much as she'd like at St. Vincent de Paul Resource Center.

The Salt Lake woman, who is 96, has decades of service behind her, including her work to help establish the Italian-American Civic League 73 years ago. She has been a volunteer at the St. Vincent center since it began operating as a soup kitchen in the late 1960s.

But eventually her legs didn't allow her to stand and work as much as she'd like.

"I just told him that I couldn't do it anymore," she said of her conversation with her son, Dennis Brunatti. "So I said, 'You've got to keep up the tradition, Denny, for me.'"

"I've been doing it," Dennis Brunatti said.

On Sunday, the two were among approximately 120 volunteers who enjoyed a lunch in their honor at the resource center, 427 W. 200 South.

Jim Upton, director of emergency services for the center, briefly addressed the volunteers: "You folks feed the homeless every day, and we couldn't do it without you."

In the last year, he added, volunteers had served more than 200,000 meals. The crowd applauded that statistic.

Later, Upton said in an interview that the center feeds any who wish to partake. "We allow them to eat as many times as they want to."

The center, operated by Catholic Community Services, once may have been called a soup kitchen, but its offerings are much more extensive. It serves meals that meet the standards of school districts, so that they are balanced and nutritious.

"It's all free. We don't charge anyone," he said.

On Sunday the meal included spaghetti with meatballs, sliced cheese and cheese balls, crackers, disks of pepperoni, salad, small carrots, pungent garlic bread, soft drinks in an icy tub, pumpkin pie and cake. Staff members kept replenishing the food, which was served cafeteria-style beneath a cross and a blackboard that bore the words "THANK YOU."

Most of the food is donated by food stores and other businesses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helps out with its Welfare Square dairy products and food. "We have a budget with them, and they're very generous with us," Upton said.

Asked if anything interesting happens at the center, Upton sighed, "It's something completely different every day. Most of the people who come here — they're hungry and they're just trying to stay alive."

Around the end of each month, more people come in who have jobs and homes. They have paid their rent, utilities and other expenses, "and they don't really have enough money to eat," he said. The resource center helps them.

"Everybody who comes, we serve," Upton said.

Another of the honorees was Stella Walkowski, Salt Lake City, who is 94 and has been a volunteer at the center since 1990. She merrily waved to acquaintances who arrived after she did, beckoning over friends.

Walkowski clearly loves her task. "The clients, as we call them, are always so appreciative," she said.

"And they keep saying, 'God bless you, thank you.'"