Every year, Clare Sellitti and other volunteers from St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Delmar prepare an impressive Thanksgiving meal: turkey breast, cranberry sauce, potatoes, green beans and plenty of desserts.

When it’s finally finished, they box the meal up and give it all away.

For almost 20 years, Mrs. Sellitti has been volunteering with the St. Thomas Mercy House meal ministry, preparing and delivering home-cooked meals for guests at Mercy House in Albany, a transitional housing facility and shelter for women and children that is overseen by Catholic Charities’ Housing Office. (CCHO’s St. Charles Lwanga Center offers similar services for men.)

“My team will never know these women, never see their faces, but I hope they know their hearts,” Mrs. Sellitti told The Evangelist.

“It’s awesome; the ladies enjoy the food,” said Francis Fox, senior resident advisor at Mercy House.

Just walking through the house, she said, residents can be overheard talking about the St. Thomas meals, wondering what the dinner is going to be for the week.

Team effort

The St. Thomas meal ministry is organized into eight teams, each comprised of six or seven people and a team leader. Each team prepares four meals a year for all the residents of Mercy House, which has 19 shelter beds and two beds available for longer stays.

The meal ministry also organizes special holiday meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas as a joint effort with all of the teams.

Pat Clement, coordinator for the ministry, said she had to turn away volunteers for the Thanksgiving meal this year because so many people were offering to help.

“These women are amazing; we always have too many volunteers,” said Mrs. Clement. “They’re so generous with their time and their skills.”

“The Lord said that we’re serving Him when we serve others,” Mrs. Sellitti noted.

Once, while dropping off a meal, Mrs. Sellitti spoke with a young woman who was struggling to face the circumstances that brought her to Mercy House.

“I said to her, ‘Thank God you’re here,’ and, ‘He will help you,’” the volunteer said. “God’s mercy is on every one of these women.”

Great volunteers

The St. Thomas teams work together to decide what dishes to prepare for their week and who will prepare it. By Friday, the team leader collects all the dishes and drops the meal off at Mercy House. Depending on the number of residents, the team’s meals are made for upward of 25 people. Mercy House staff are also included in the count.

Mrs. Sellitti, who has been the team leader for her group for many years, spoke highly of the six women on her team. One week, only two members were free to prepare a meal. They completed the task on time, with no complaints.

“They are such a blessing in my life — not just for these women at Mercy House, but for me,” she said.

Even when it’s not her week, Mrs. Sellitti is thinking about Mercy House when grocery shopping or clipping coupons in the newspaper.

Mmm, mmm good

Some of the dishes the teams have prepared include pulled pork, stuffed chicken breasts, beef stew and ham. Mrs. Clement said the ministry always tries to include vegetables and salad to make the meals as healthy as they can, “but there’s always dessert.”

The meal ministry teams also try to include small items like toothpaste and toothbrushes for the women of Mercy House, plus snacks like chips and salsa to go with the meals.

Mrs. Sellitti and Mrs. Clement expressed their love of serving the community.

“Eating is such a basic need,” said Mrs. Clement. “Having enough food to eat must take a lot off of [the residents’] minds.”

“You don’t need to be a gourmet chef” to volunteer,” Mrs. Sellitti added. “You just need to have a gourmet heart.”

(For more information about St. Thomas’ Mercy House meal ministry, contact the parish office at 518-439-4636 or email Pat Clement at For information on Mercy House, contact the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, 518-563-2124, for a referral.)