Pair serves tradition faithfully for 20 years

Suppers: Men mark a milestone of organizing dinners for those with psychiatric disorders.

December 22, 2003|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In his red Santa hat and matching sweat shirt, Harvey Zorbaugh worked the room yesterday at the Ellicott City Senior Center.

"Hi, Maria." "Good to see you all, happy holidays."

"OK, everybody," Zorbaugh said, "we've got the salads out, so you can come up and get your salad."

And with that first course, Zorbaugh and Joseph Friend marked 20 years of providing monthly dinners to Howard County residents with psychiatric disorders through Sunday Suppers.

With the help of church and community volunteers, Zorbaugh, 73, and Friend, 75, haven't missed a meal since they began to organize the dinners in 1983.

"It's a chance to reconnect with others, and talk about what's going on, and have a good meal, and take some food home if they want to do that," Zorbaugh said.

"We just keep trucking along," Friend added. "Now it's kind of its own institution."

Linda Field, executive director of the Howard affiliate of the National Association for the Mentally Ill, which sponsors Sunday Suppers, said the events fill a niche for the diners: "It becomes a routine they look forward to, which is important, because some of the people don't have many social occasions that they participate in."

George and Janice Yingling originated the Sunday Suppers in 1980, and kept them going for three years. But after their son committed suicide, they chose not to continue the dinners, said their niece, Kelly Proctor, a Sunday Supper volunteer for the past four years.

Friend and Zorbaugh, both of whom have relatives with psychiatric disorders, stepped in to take over.

"Harvey and I decided that it had to go on," said Friend, board chairman of the county's Mental Health Authority.

Division of tasks

Over the past two decades, the two men have established a clear division of labor.

Zorbaugh handles the transportation, picking up guests in his van and dropping them off after dinner. Two other mental health providers also donate vans and drivers for the suppers. Friend lines up community and church groups to provide the meals, and on the day of the dinner he greets the volunteers and explains the set-up and serving procedure.

"It's so much of a routine now," Friend said, "that we can be very flexible to meet any change in circumstances."

Volunteers from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia made and served yesterday's holiday meal to about 40 guests, along with the wives of Friend and Zorbaugh, Claudia Friend and Mary Ellen Zorbaugh. The menu included rolls, ham, sweet potatoes, applesauce and a variety of string bean casseroles, and pies for dessert.

Most of the diners take part in mental health programs in Howard. They live on their own, in group homes or with relatives.

"I look forward to Sunday Suppers," said Darlene Bullock, 41, of Columbia, who has attended the dinners for a year. "Like today, I wasn't doing anything at home, and you can come here and mingle with people."

Geoff Lindsay, who said he has been coming to the suppers since they began, enjoys "the fellowship and being able to entertain people." The 40-year-old, who lives in Columbia, frequently brings his synthesizer to holiday dinners.

"I could sit down and play for 45 minutes," he said. "I just taught myself `Jingle Bell Rock.'"

Easter Kim, who entertained diners yesterday with Christmas carols on the piano, said she has come to the suppers for four years.

"It gives you the time to get to know different people," said Kim, 32, of Columbia.

`Many more dinners'

For Proctor, the dinners are a way to carry on the work of her aunt and uncle, the Yinglings.

She remembers helping at the earlier dinners, which, at that time, were prepared by her aunt and her mother, Sue Shalcosky.

"I called to see if it was still going on and to see if I could help out," said Proctor, whose children have also volunteered at the dinners.

Yesterday, after the guests had finished eating, Friend and Zorbaugh retreated to a table in the back of the room for a bite. Then Zorbaugh got up to address the crowd.

"Joe and I want to wish all of you a happy holiday and a wonderful new year's," he said, "and many more dinners on the third Sunday of the month."

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