Parkrose ‘Community Dinners’ continue to draw residents together

See how the son of farmer who helped found Parkrose has inspired his church group to keep nourishing the community – a meal at a time. And, find out when they’ll serve their next dinner …

Volunteer Christine Wise, and the head chef of the St. Rita Community Dinners, Vickie Carl, pause while preparing for another Saturday-night dinner.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
More than 100 years ago, immigrant farmer Nicola Rossi came from Italy, and started growing crops in what became Parkrose to feed the nascent town of Portland.

Over the years, his grandson, Joe Rossi, kept the farm going. Joe also created events like the “Barn Bash” – centered around a great BBQ chicken dinner – that fed thousands every summer, while raising funds to Parkrose youth charities.

Although their farm store has since closed, and the Barn Bash is now but a memory, Joe has kept the Rossi spirit of “building community” – by getting folks seated around the dinner table – through his faith organization, St. Rita’s Catholic Church.

Serving salad at this dinner is volunteer John Bowman.

We met Vickie Carl, the head chef for these events, who said they’ve been hosting monthly dinners for about a year now. “It takes 25 to 30 volunteers to put on a dinner. This year, we’ll be doing two dinners each month.”

The inspiration for the project, Carl said, was Rossi. “Joe Rossi had this idea, and volunteers from St. Rita have supported it.”

As is his way, Rossi had hoped to escape the limelight as we reported the story. “It’s really not about me, it’s about the wonderful volunteers who pitch in and have helped our Community Dinner grow – now, hosting two dinners each month. We have two crews of volunteers who put it on.”

Robert Wise and Victor Kuss dish up bowls of freshly-made minestrone soup that servers will take out to the tables of diners.

The idea, Rossi said, was to bring together the community.

“People going hungry and needing some help are often invisible in our community,” Rossi said. “We invite everyone to come and dine together. The homeless and down-on-their-luck don’t feel like they’re eating in a ‘rescue mission soup kitchen’. When they’re here, they’re treated like everyday folks – like they’re walking into a restaurant and sitting down to a meal.”

There’s not a cafeteria line; all of the 150 or so guests are served at a table, Rossi pointed out. “We sit at tables, eat and talk together. People from our parish get to meet people in our community – to connect with them, while they sit and talk.”

We saw a dozen or so youths gathered, getting ready to serve the three-course dinner.

Student volunteer Bailey Golar  — with dinner founder Joe Rossi and servers Hannah Hamling, Juneau Singleton, Jamie Crocker, Alyssa Jewell, Carolyn Taylor  and Riley Golar – are ready to start serving meal courses to diners at tables in St. Rita’s activity hall.

“It’s important that we help our kids learn to be of service to their community,” explained Rossi. “Many of them here tonight are sons and daughters of our adult volunteers. Working with mom and dad is really awesome. We don’t have small family businesses anymore, where the children work with her parents. This is a good opportunity for moms and dads to interact with their children.”

Guests aren’t required to attend a religious service before dinner, he said. “There’s no sermon, no charge or donation. Anyone can come in off the street. Basically, the goal is to serve our community food, to people who need it, and to people who would eat alone tonight, and to bring everyone together.”

Kindergartner Simone Dluhy says she’s happy to help out, as she’s dong here, with the support of her mom, Cheryl.

Aims for serving dinners weekly
The next dinner is set for January 15, we learned. “Our goal is amended to one every weekend, every Saturday,” Rossi told us. “And I we’re at the halfway point, doing two a month.”

We have no doubt that Joe’s dad, Aldo Rossi, a lifelong member of St. Rita’s until his passing, would be smiling, and would have helped his son continue to feed the neighbors he loved – proud to see his son is carrying on his tradition of building community spirit.

St. Rita’s Catholic Community is located at 10029 NE Prescott St. For more information, call (503) 252-3403 or e-mail:

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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