Alumni serve up a slice of hope for the needy
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Photos courtesy of Aaron Walth
They arrived at the kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul wearing their Grand Canyon University T-shirts, sneakers and smiles. Following instructions, they quickly picked up vinyl gloves, hairnets and an apron and spread out inside the kitchen.
“All right, who’s ready to have fun?” said Jessica Dickerson, a kitchen coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul.
The GCU volunteers of the Alumni Phoenix Chapter had one mission – to provide a family-friendly dinner to the most vulnerable population on a Friday night. They had two hours.
Some rolled dough and others garnished the pizzas with toppings. They all were moving quickly.
Nichole Jacobson, vice president at GCU’s Phoenix Alumni Chapter, smiled through the sweat.
“The fact that we are here with other alumni and we’re sharing stories while we are making pizzas … it’s so much fun,” she said.
With one of the largest industrial kitchens in the Southwest and five charitable dining rooms, St. Vincent de Paul serves more than 1.2 million meals a year to hungry families and usually up to 4,500 meals a day. Many of the people who eat there are low-income families needing a little extra help.
“It’s a hard job, and it’s one we can’t do without our volunteers,” said Dickerson as GCU volunteers tossed up more than 100 pizzas.
The Friday Pizza Night tradition at St. Vincent de Paul is a good chance for families to feel safe and relaxed, said Dickerson, cutting one pizza after another into scythe-shaped, curved slices.
“It’s the purpose that makes the job worth it,” she added.
Vince Licciardi, university enrollment manager and president of the Phoenix Lopes Alumni Chapter, was excited about the chance to volunteer.
“For us it’s really important that we are doing things that are making our alumni happy and that they see value in. Volunteering is number one on their list,” Licciardi said.
It was the first time Licciardi had ever volunteered to make pizza at St. Vincent de Paul, and he said he was sure he would return.
He also showed off his pizza-tossing skills, which he credited to his Italian background.
“I do this at home all the time,” he said before asking the kitchen lead for extra cheese.
As the Family Dining Room filled up, children ran off to other areas to enjoy a game of futsal (an indoor version of football), make Father’s Day cards or read at the Dream Center – an activity center built into the Family Dining Room.
At each table there was a number and a daily menu with pizza options – pepperoni, cheese, pepperoni and sausage, or veggie pizza – and a jar of water and juice.
“We try to create the scene almost like a restaurant-style. I think that’s what makes it extra special,” Dickerson said. “We make the pizza and then we serve it to them with salad and cookies and get to see the joy on their faces.”
On a typical Friday night the kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul makes and serves 150 pizzas. Dickerson said sometimes she has to make them all herself.
When asked about the impact of having GCU volunteers come in and help, Dickerson said, “We are so happy to have GCU, and we hope they’ll come back. This group worked really well together. We had a pretty good flow in the kitchen, and I think the pizzas came out nice and round. Now we can all enjoy them out in the dining room.”
The GCU alumni felt good, too.
Ryan Molyneaux came by with her daughter after receiving an email about the volunteer opportunity.
“I am so shocked and happy that we were able to focus and work through all of these pizzas,” Molyneaux said. “I’m glad the University has opportunities like this for us to contribute to the community.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.