PITTSBURG — Guests at the The Lord’s Diner make just as big of an impact as the volunteers.
Pittsburg State University Football players Jared Vincent, Dylan Smith, Jacob Carpenter and Connor Kaifes began their days at the diner by volunteering with the team on the first Sunday of each month before becoming diner employees.
The Lord’s Diner’s guests come in, get a tray full of food and the volunteers give refills and as they do so, the guests tell their stories. “The people that come to the Diner don’t always have somebody to talk to, so when they finally see a friendly face that is willing to talk to them, they will let you know their whole story,” Smith said. “Hearing those stories are always interesting to me.”
The football players, who were dubbed “The Boys,” bonded with many people including the late Joey Natalini, a former guest who was a “bright light” at the Diner. “He would engage the boys about sports, about his former days as an entertainer,” said Lisa Russell, the Diner volunteer coordinator.
The Boys looked forward to Joey’s visits to the Diner. “He’s such an awesome guy, you see it all throughout the community, everybody knows him and loves him,” Vincent said. “It was neat to communicate with him and learn his story and hear about his life and how his life impacted others, and how we’ve done the same for him.”
Smith shared his sentiment, “We loved Joey.” Joey specifically stood out because as soon as he stepped through the door he was singing, and he would sing loud for everyone to hear,” Smith said. “He had a heck of voice, it echoed throughout the Diner and everybody knew when Joey would show up. He always had a smile on his face and was always cracking jokes. He was a positive presence at the Diner at all times and that rubbed off on everybody.”
When Natalini’s health declined, the Boys visited him in the hospital and upon his passing his family made arrangements for his services to accommodate when all the Boys could be there.
Working at the Diner has been humbling, Smith said, “Guests show up and they are so excited to see us and it’s such a good feeling. You can see that they are looking forward to coming to the Diner, and being able to talk to good friends.”
Vincent agreed and said the experience has been incredible. “I’ve fostered so many relationships through the Diner,” he said, adding the Diner connects the entire community. “It’s quite a special place, I’ve learned a lot about life from working at the Diner.”
The Boys undoubtedly have made an impact on the guests, Russell said. “These young men bring youthfulness to the Diner in the evening, they show empathy and respect to the guests and have a mature way of connecting with the volunteers,” she said. “Laura Ramsey and I love working with them, and at times mothering them when we think they need to be eating better.
“Everyone, guest and volunteer alike, look for their numbers on the football field and cheer them on, which is a wonderful way to promote Pittsburg State University in the Diner.”
Joe Dellasega, chairperson of Lord’s Diner Advisory Council, said young people like the Boys cast a spirit in the Diner that is contagious. “Those guys provide great hope by debunking the myth that all young people are selfish or lazy,” he said. “That is simply not true. These are very talented young men who have so many opportunities to spend their time in other ways, but they choose to be here. One of the reasons for the Diner’s success is the joyful environment that these guys help create. They are great ambassadors for Pittsburg State University and for PSU’s football program.”
To help make sure people like “The Boys” and Natalini continue to make a difference in people's lives, the Pittsburg Noon Rotary has adopted the Lord’s Diner as their flagship program. One of Rotary’s most significant service projects is to spearhead the Lord’s Diner Give 365 Phonathon. On Wednesday evening, Nov. 20, over 40 Rotary volunteers will gather to reach out to Diner volunteers, and other community members to request their financial support for Give 365.
“If everybody can do a small part by paying for the cost of food for an evening ($365), we will have the funding we need to continue to offer a warm meal every night of the year,” Dellasega said, adding “We’ve been extremely blessed that we have had a donor come forward and put up a $50,000 match for all of the money we raise up until Dec. 25.
“This donor’s $50,000 match is an incredible blessing in that it allows each person that supports the Give 365 program to know that their support is actually worth twice the face amount of their gift.”
All are invited to go to thelordsdinerpittsburg.com to make a donation. “Unfortunately, we only have so many callers, and we cannot call everyone in the community. So, online gifts are greatly encouraged. The Diner’s Advisory Council is so grateful to all of the people that support our mission. Volunteer hours, in-kind gifts and Give 365 are all examples of how people come together to make the Diner work,” Dellasega said. “This is truly a community Diner that gives us the opportunity to proudly say that nobody in Pittsburg should ever have to go to bed hungry — especially not our kids and our seniors.”