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Annual Dollar Dinners program begins Sunday

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Fifty dinners on 50 dates.

That is what the Watertown Urban Mission would like to see for its 2013-14 Dollar Dinners season, which begins at 5 p.m. Sunday at Immaculate Heart Central Intermediate School, 733 S. Massey St.

“We expect to have more than 30 (dinners),” said Andrew G. Mangione, director of development. “We’re filling empty slots.”

Community organizations and churches are invited to participate by hosting a dinner on 22 available Sundays or Wednesdays from Nov. 6 to April 30. More than a dozen organizations or churches have already signed up to host one or more dinners each.

All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 1330 Gotham St., will host a dinner April 20, which is Easter Sunday. It may be more difficult, Mr. Mangione said, to have a group of volunteers commit to hosting one on other holidays, such as Christmas or New Year’s Day, which both fall on Wednesdays.

Meals are served hot and may range from lasagna to fried chicken to spaghetti and meatballs to scalloped potatoes and ham, among other options.

The program began in 2005 to offer people a way to cope with rising heating costs in the winter. If individuals cannot afford the $1 meal, they may obtain free Dollar Dinner coupons at the Watertown Urban Mission and redeem them for the meal. Many attendees, however, go to meal sites and donate more than $1.

“This program is intended for fellowship before anything else, so we want it to always be just a dollar so we can encourage many people to come,” Mr. Mangione said.

People who cannot attend but would like to contribute to the cause may do so, he said, by stopping by the mission, 247 Factory St., with a donation to help offset the cost each organization or church has in putting the meals together. Holy Family Church, 129 Winthrop St., could not host a dinner, so it provided the mission with a $1,500 donation toward program costs.

Donations, such as the one from Holy Family, combined with funds collected from Dollar Dinners themselves, help cover the cost of meals. Churches or organizations that host dinners may be reimbursed up to $450 for the meals, but often they do not seek reimbursement.

If enough funds aren’t collected to make the program self-sustaining, the Watertown Urban Mission takes money from its general fund to cover that cost. Mr. Mangione said that is something the mission will continue to stand by, as “the value of the program is immeasurable.”

Trinity Episcopal Church has participated in the Dollar Dinner program since its inception, according to church member and Dollar Dinner volunteer Donna S. Barber. This season, she said, the church will host five dinners at its Macsherry Parish Center, 227 Sherman St.

“We prepare for 300 meals, inclusive of both eat-in and take-out,” Mrs. Barber said. “We found last year that our basic meal was ham, potatoes, a vegetable and a drink. It’s outreach; there’s a lot of needy families. For a dollar, they’re getting a hot meal.”

To host a dinner, call the agency at 782-8440.

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