Mark Ries spent four hours of a gorgeous spring Sunday morning in the basement of Akron’s American Red Cross building on West Market Street.
He wanted to be there as part of Mitzvah Day, cooking a healthy, hardy meal for Akron’s needy and homeless.
Chef Ries’ menu: breaded chicken cutlets, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, green beans, tossed green salad, lemonade to drink and a serving of apricots for dessert.
Although the Red Cross doors opened for the free meal at 12:30 p.m., Ries was there at 8:30 a.m., he said, to begin his meal preparations for the expected heavy turnout.
Mitzvah is a Hebrew word meaning “good deed,” or an act of human kindness toward others — the theme of Sunday’s event at more than a dozen mostly nonprofit organizations throughout the city.
Ries, 49, who is retired after 30 years of work in Timken’s technical engineering center, said he felt the need to be there.
“I guess I’ve been blessed with good health, and I’ve made some good investments, so if I’m able to give back and help the less fortunate, I want to do that,” Ries said.
Red Cross volunteer Marianna Jones said the organization schedules community dinner days on every second and fourth Sunday of the month. The event usually draws between 150 and 200 people for the two hours that the meals are served.
However, with the fourth Sunday in May falling on Memorial Day weekend, the month’s second community day dinner was moved up a week.
And so the usually big turnout dropped to about 20 to 30, organizers said, with under an hour remaining before the doors closed at 2:30 p.m.
But that didn’t detract from the spirit of the 15 Mitzvah Day volunteers.
Lisa Spector of Akron’s Beth El Congregation was one of the volunteers in the serving line and brought her 16-year-old daughter, Madison, who helped serve the food at the buffet table.
Spector said it felt good to be there.
“We could have been out shopping for [my daughter], but we both decided to be here doing something for somebody else,” she said.
Such a decision embodies the true spirit and meaning of the word “mitzvah,” Spector said.
One of the needy, a 75-year-old woman from Akron who did not wish to give her name, brought a friend and said Sunday’s meal was very good.
“This is one of the nicer ones, and they have a lot of different groups who come in and serve,” she said.
The woman said she fell and broke her hip two years ago and has other health and mobility problems. Sunday’s meal simply helped her get by.
“My income keeps dropping every year with the government cuts, so I can’t make it without getting some help,” she said.
Every person, when finished eating the dinner at the Red Cross center, also received a grocery bag filled to the top with apples and oranges, canned soup and black-eyed peas, a jar of peanut butter, boxes of macaroni and cheese and breakfast bars, and packages of ramen noodles and ramen chicken soup.
But it wasn’t just the food that brought out the needy.
A 51-year-old Akron man, who preferred not to give his name, said he came for fellowship.
“We all need people in our lives, and this is one of the ways that really makes my spirits good,” he said.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.