WILKES-BARRE — The summer break was over, and Rose Yuhas was glad.
As part of the volunteer team that cooks and serves six kinds of pasta and five kinds of sauce each Thursday at St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church on South Main Street, Yuhas, of Wilkes-Barre, said last week she was happy to be back cutting vegetables and passing out salads — especially to the regulars.
“I missed the people,” she said. “We get a lot of the same people every week and we get to know them.”
As if to prove her point, retired teacher George Krlic, of Hanover Township — a customer partial to angel hair with clam sauce — stopped at the salad station to give her a hug and tell her he was sorry he had forgotten to bring her a candy bar.
“Sometimes I laugh until I cry,” Yuhas said, admitting she gets a kick out of Krlic’s teasing.
“You get tired (working here),” she added, “but it’s a good kind of tired.”
Fortunately Yuhas, who is 84, and the other veteran volunteers have some young reinforcements.
“It was my idea to come and help,” said Laila Qarmout, 17, of Dunmore, whose brothers, 14-year-old Steven and 15-year-old Sam, agreed to pitch in with their sister and their mother, Maha.
“You’re not doing it for you,” Laila said earnestly. “You’re doing it for God.”
Customers say they benefit too.
“It tastes better when someone else cooks it,” said Theresa Chupka, of Hanover Township, who enjoys attending the dinners with her sister, Mary.
“I love it. We come usually every Thursday,” said Marie Merritt, of Wilkes-Barre, who was sitting with Bill Mitchell, of Bear Creek Township.
“It’s excellent service,” Mitchell said.
“Everyone is so pleasant,” Merritt said. “I got the ziti and I have enough to take home for lunch tomorrow. It’s like getting two or three meals for the price of one.”
“We serve large portions,” coordinator Joanne Tenneriello, of Wilkes-Barre, said, explaining she expected to serve 40 pounds of pasta to 150 customers during the first dinner of the season.
“If we run out, we can cook more,” she said.
Much of the pasta is parboiled in advance so it only has to cook for a short time — “two minutes, tops,” Tenneriello said — when a server brings in an order.
Back in the kitchen, volunteers Jerry Taroli Sr., of Wilkes-Barre, and Bill Shirk, of Nanticoke, explained some of the many ways the various sauces and pastas can be combined.
You could have marinara sauce on fettuccine. Or dress up a plate of shells with tomato sauce and meatballs. Or chicken. Or sausage.
Some people even ask for a plate to be divided, with half the pasta covered by one sauce and half by another.
“It’s not a problem,” Taroli said.
But, he added, most people opt for one of the tomato-based sauces on the most delicate of the pasta selections.
“They want the angel hair, two to one,” he said.
Diners round out their meal with bread, salad and desserts too. Last week, the sweet treats included slices of pound cake, doughnuts and strawberry shortcake.
The spaghetti dinners have been an ongoing fund-raiser at the church for 25 years, Tenneriello said, crediting a parishioner named Jim Cardillo, who had been an experienced chef, with starting the tradition.
The church’s new pastor, the Very Rev. George Alberts, who arrived in July from Danbury, Conn., said he has been delighted to find such a well-organized, ongoing fund-raiser in place.
“It’s fantastic,” he said with a smile. “They have everything down pat.”