Audrey Jordan serves a Starkville local during the Casserole Kitchen program held at First Presbyterian Church. The meal service is open to the public who is in need, is held every second Tuesday of every month and a different church provides the meals each time. The Casserole Kitchen earned a state volunteerism award this week. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Deborah Mansfield of Deborah Mansfield Decorative Painting poses in front of one of the many murals situated in downtown West Point in this 2015 Dispatch file photo. Mansfield was honored on Monday with the GIVE Award for Outstanding Initiative in Community Revitalization.
Photo by: Dispatch file photo
April 12, 2017 10:46:56 AM
Most days, volunteers work behind the scenes and attract little attention.
Monday was not one of those days.
A group of 14 volunteers from throughout the state of Mississippi were treated to a luncheon in Jackson, where they were presented with the Governor's Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award (GIVE).
Of that group, three were from Starkville while another Starkville resident was named as an honorable mention.
The Starkville contingent included Alison Buehler (Outstanding Achievement in Sustainable Community Solutions), Casserole Kitchen (Outstanding Faith-based Collaboration Initiative) and Paul Cuicchi (Outstanding Servant Leadership). Honorable mention went to Dr. Linda McGrath (Healthy Community Initiatives).
Contact Helpline of Columbus was presented the GIVE Award for Outstanding Volunteer Initiative in Crisis Intervention while Deborah Mansfield of West Point won the award for Outstanding Initiative in Community Revitalization. Anna Reed Hairston of Columbus was an honorable mention for Youth Leadership.
Buehler couldn't help notice the number of familiar faces she saw at Monday's luncheon.
"It was great to see so many Starkville people there," said Buehler. "It was exciting to see that we have so many good people doing great things in our community."
Buehler, who with her family operates the nonprofit Homestead Center to share information on health wellness and personal growth, is also a board member of Gaining Ground of Mississippi. The organization's focus is helping Mississippians return to localization of food, energy, transportation and other resources. Its mission is to help Mississippians make sustainable decisions by connecting people with essential education and resources.
Like many volunteers who were honored Monday, Buehler saw a need and stepped forward.
"When we moved to Mississippi in 2006, we were stunned by the lack of local food and the availability of decent things to eat," Buehler said. "Now, I can find anything I want. Local, healthy food is everywhere. I think Gaining Ground has really made a big difference there. People are really far more aware and they are demanding the kinds of food that just weren't available even a few years ago."
Other Starkville winners
Casserole Kitchen was founded in 2009 and provides free hot meals three days per week to needy residents. First Presbyterian founded the service and coordinates with a coalition of other churches in the area to provide the meals. Participating churches are responsible for providing the meal once a month. Tuesday and Thursday meals (6 p.m.) are held at First Presbyterian while Saturday's (11:30 a.m.) is provided at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection.
"It really is a ecumenical effort," said Loren Zimmerman, who coordinates the program. "Churches from all over the community participate. What we are trying to do is provide a safe, wholesome environment where they can get a hot meal."
Zimmerman said Casserole Kitchen has served more than 35,000 meals since its inception.
While churches often disagree on many topics, serving the needy is common ground.
"That's what all our churches are charged to do," Zimmerman said. "It's been relatively easy to get churches involved. Once they start helping, they love it."
Paul Cuicchi, a retired Mississippi State University professor, has served as a volunteer with Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity for 27 years. As a Team Leader for Habitat, he has worked on construction crews for numerous houses built for families in need while supervising MSU student and community volunteers. During the past year, Cuicchi has logged about 1,300 service hours with Habitat.
"There a several reasons why I'm been involved with Habitat for so long," he said. "First, I really like to work with my hands. Second, it's a neat deal to help somebody have a house that they can afford. Third, the guys I work with are great people - - our board of directors, the site contractors and a bunch of retired people like me."
Other regional winners
For both Mansfield and Katrina Sunivelle, the work that would ultimately lead to Monday's recognition began years ago with little fanfare.
Mansfield and her husband, Jim, began volunteering soon after the Houston, Texas, couple retired to West Point six years ago. Neither knew anyone in West Point when they settled into their new home and Mansfield opened up a small art studio downtown.
Noting downtown seemed a bit uninviting, Mansfield set to work, using her talents as a painter, and recruiting other downtown business owners to join in.
"After a while, it became sort of contagious," Mansfield said. "We've done eight murals downtown and (we) start on another one today. We have a couple more planned for the summer."
Mansfield said the downtown group has raised funds to cover the cost of the paint and supplies, as well as funds for planters, flowers, trees that adorn downtown and Kitty Bryan Park.
"Now, it's to the point where everyone is saying, 'What's next?' The community support has been wonderful," she said.
Contact Helpline, founded in 1975, is one of the oldest crisis intervention services in the state, relying heavily on community volunteers to help when citizens are often at their most vulnerable.
While Sunivelle has been the director since 2013, her association the Contact Helpline began when she felt a call to service, becoming a volunteer in 2006.
"Last year, we had more than 10,000 total calls," Sunivelle said. "We simply could not do that without our volunteers. They are what makes it work."
Although Sunivelle was proud to accept the award Monday, she said the volunteers are the people who deserve the credit.
"We have 30 to 40 volunteers involved in a lot of areas," Sunivelle said. "Most of that work, nobody really notices, and that's OK with the volunteers. They do this because they love it and they are committed to helping people, who are hurting, have a better life. Ask any volunteer and they'll tell you that's the most rewarding part.
"At the same time, it's really great that they are being recognized for what they are doing for the community. Everybody likes a little praise now and then," she added. "They deserve it."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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