A school centered around service: Wilmington Friends feeds the hungry

Charlie Megginson Culture, Education, Headlines

a group of people preparing food in a restaurant

Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Dining Room.

Each month, staff, students and faculty at Wilmington Friends School work together to provide hundreds of meals for Wilmington’s Emmanual Dining Room. 

Emmanuel Dining Room, a Ministry of Caring program which operates three locations in New Castle County, provides daily meals to the poor, homeless and unemployed.

The nonprofit Ministry of Caring relies on volunteers to fulfill its mission — most of whom come from church groups. 

Wilmington Friends School’s Home & School Association has been actively engaged in feeding and serving those in need for 14 years. 

Anne Martelli, whose children were students at Wilmington Friends, began the school’s relationship with Emmanuel Dining Room after her mother volunteered through her church every month for years. 

“I didn’t belong to a church or synagogue or anything and yet I still felt like I wanted to help give,” Martelli said. “We started, once a month, contributing food to Emmanuel Dining Room and sending servers. That was 14 years ago and we’ve been going ever since.”

a woman preparing food in a kitchen

Former Wilmington Friends student Teddy Devoll and friend prepare food for the Emmanuel Dining Room.

Throughout that time, due to its convenient location, Martelli’s house has become a distribution center of sorts. 

Each month, volunteers from the school’s Home & School Association, which is similar to a parent-teacher organization, prepare between 140 and 160 meals and drop them off at Martelli’s house where they are then sent off to Emmanuel Dining Room. 

She said that although her children are no longer students at Wilmington Friends, she still feels like a part of the school’s community — one she says she’s happy to help.

David Tuttleman, a Wilmington Friends parent and businessman, is the current project coordinator for the Home & School Association’s volunteer work with the Emmanuel Dining Room. 

Tuttleman, who previously owned the renowned nightclub and bar Kahunaville on the Riverfront in Wilmington, says his experience in the restaurant and hospitality business inspires his passion to help the nonprofit. 

“I always felt that selling food was great,” he said. “But giving food away is much better for the soul.” 

When he and his wife, Kristine, were presented with the opportunity to coordinate the school’s volunteer efforts, they “knew in a second” that it was something they wanted to do. 

The husband and wife duo — known to volunteers as “Team Tuttleman,” recruits helpers through an online service called SignUpGenius.

Team Tuttleman simply inputs the date of the meal and the courses that need to be prepared. Then, parents sign up for the item they want to donate. 

One week before the meal, parents pick up the serving trays at a convenient location. Then the countdown begins. 

One week later, they return the serving trays — this time full of food — to Martelli’s house where Team Tuttleman picks them up and delivers them to Emmanuel Dining Room.

It’s that clearly defined process that allowed the Home & School Association to continue serving despite the challenges presented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic forced Emmanuel Dining Room to change the way it operates. Instead of serving those in need in a restaurant format, the nonprofit had to begin individually packaging to-go lunches. 

“In 2020, the impact of COVID-19 was devastating, forcing the dining room to quickly adapt and adjust to a new norm,” wrote Emmanual Dining Room program director ReeNee LaFate to Team Tuttleman in a May 2021 letter. “Because of your caring, time, willingness and amazing support, Emmanuel Dining Room continued to serve and feed — without interruption—the many men, women, and children who came to our doors hungry.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and with the help of volunteers from Wilmington Friends and elsewhere, the Emmanuel Dining Room served over 151,000 meals in 2020. 

a group of people standing in a kitchen

Former Wilmington Friends student Teddy Devoll and friend prepare food for the Emmanuel Dining Room.

Tuttleman believes the school’s volunteer efforts can still be taken to the next level. 

“We can do even more for the Emmanuel Dining Room,” he said. “We serve one meal, one day a month. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s a great effort and they’re really happy that we’re consistent on our work.”

Tuttleman said one way they could step up their efforts is by providing a second meal every month — perhaps at another one of Emmanuel Dining Room’s locations. 

Another move Tuttleman is interested in exploring is leveraging his relationships in the restaurant industry to secure corporate sponsors for Emmanuel Dining Room. 

“I’m not talking about a can drive,” he said. “I’m talking about, you know, truckloads of green beans.”

And although the mission of the Emmanuel Dining Room is to serve others, Tuttleman has something in store to give the staff and volunteers. 

“Let’s bring some of the some of the people from Emmanuel Dining Room and treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve and bring them to a party, sponsored privately by myself and let’s just celebrate the fact that we’ve come together as a community.”

The party would draw folks with the skills and resources necessary to address the needs of the Emmanuel Dining Room, all while celebrating the selfless work that the staff and volunteers do on a daily basis. 

Margaretta Kroeger, constituent resources coordinator at Wilmington Friends, said that service is a core component of the Wilmington Friends mission.

“It’s really at the heart of our community,” she said. “And so that’s something that we try to instill from our youngest students to our seniors, to parents and alumni.”

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