BRISTOL - Before sitting down to their own Easter feast Sunday, the Caggiano family made sure their neighbors across the city had a good meal.
That’s how “Mama” would have done it, so that’s how their holiday begins, too.
Mama Sandy Caggiano, as she was affectionately known to her loved ones, left a legacy of giving when she passed away in April 2010. She left not long after enjoying a warm, sunny Easter similar to Sunday. Her four children, their spouses and grandchildren remembered her fondly as they delivered 30 meals to seniors and disabled residents of Meridian Tower on Sheila Court.
These dinners were cooked and packaged by two-dozen other volunteers inside the basement of the Zion Evangelical Church that morning. The group made a total of 329 individual meals for residents across the city who might not otherwise have celebrated Easter.
“It’s an opportunity for strangers to help other strangers and share a couple of moments together,” said Paul Eckstrom, the Bristol resident who has facilitated the Easter meal deliveries for over 16 years.
The majority of people who sign up for a meal are homebound, elderly, disabled or simply prefer to stay home and don’t have anyone to join them for the holiday. They don’t necessarily lack the financial means to purchase and cook their own Easter dinner, according to Eckstrom.
“Sometimes they’re just grateful for somebody knocking on their door and wishing them a happy holiday,” he explained.
Those who volunteer to cook, package and deliver the goods have their own reasons. For the Caggiano family, it’s Mama Sandy.
“This is the legacy she left for us,” said Dawn Nielsen, Sandy’s oldest daughter. “She was a big proponent of giving back to the community and she passed that along to us and we’ve passed it along to our own kids.”
Nielsen’s brother Jeff remembered another day his mother and all her children and grandchildren enjoyed each other’s company.
“The last time we were all together as a family for a holiday was Easter 2010,” he said. “That’s why this is such a special day. It does feel like she’s with us today,” he added. “She brought this beautiful weather.”
Their other sister Lisa Galske and her children participated as well, and their brother Joe stayed home to cook dinner for the whole family.
Sandy taught in Bristol schools for 30 years, a career that began in the Title 1 program at South Side School. It was here she met many children from struggling families, and it’s here that her own children continue to support the Family Resource Center. Established in 2015, the Mama Caggiano Fund honors her memory by awarding an annual grant to the center.
The Caggianos weren’t the only Bristol family who began their Easter helping out at the Zion Church Sunday. Eckstrom was joined by a variety of volunteers, from mothers and daughters to husbands and wives.
“Bristol is very fortunate to have so many people who volunteer for good causes,” he pointed out.
Even Shop-Rite in Bristol donated a portion of the food purchased for the program and gave the group a discount on the rest. Store staff also brought it down to the church early that morning.
A little after noon time, all the deliveries had gone out and the busy team at Zion went into clean up mode. Most Easter celebrations continued at home.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.