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Firefighter 'chefs' cook to help Womanshelter

By Lori O'Brien, Correspondent

HOLYOKE The Holyoke Fire Department is teaming up with members of Womanshelter/Compa eras for a community "Firehouse Ciao!" dinner on June 21.

This is the first event of its kind for both the Holyoke firefighters and the local organization, according to Karen Cavanaugh, executive director, Womanshelter/Compa eras, who spoke with Reminder Publications.

Cavanaugh has been working closely with Holyoke Fire Chief David A. Lafond on the dinner which will feature Italian fare prepared by firefighter "chefs" Jason (Juliak) Santanello, Mike Clark, Mike Wolohan and Captain Chris Reynolds.

Persons attending the community dinner will receive ample servings of chicken parmesan (with Santanello's "secret, specialty sauce"), meatballs, spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, beverage and dessert. Servings will be cafeteria style with firefighters serving patrons from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Mater Dolorosa Social Center. A disc jockey will also provide entertainment during the affair. Tickets will be available at the door.

Cavanaugh noted that the community dinner is an opportunity for both groups to have a positive event in the community and to raise awareness on the issue of domestic violence. She added there has been an increasing number of domestic homicides in the area in which fire has been the "weapon of choice."

"The primary goal of the community dinner is to have fun and enjoy the food," she said, adding she also hopes to raise as much money as possible to fund the services offered by Womanshelter/Compa eras. A 50/50 raffle will also be conducted during the event.

"Firefighters are first responders in those situations," she said. "We provide services to victims. Chief Lafond wanted to get involved in both helping our organization and bringing public attention to the issue. We're hoping for an extraordinary turnout."

Cavanaugh emphasized during the interview that the demand for the services of Womanshelter/Compa eras far exceeds its resources.

"We need the community's help to continue to meet the needs of the community," she added.

Cavanaugh stressed that the shelter her organization runs will assist more families this year than last year and its non-shelter services have increased dramatically. Since its inception in 1980, the organization has sheltered more than 2,000 women and children and assisted 30,000 others through community based support programs.

Womanshelter/Compa eras' philosophy is based on the understanding that victims and survivors of domestic violence deserve respect and can make their own choices. Staff present options and offer a high level of emotional support for independent decision-making.

Funds raised from the community dinner will be used to support both the shelter and the support services provided throughout the Pioneer Valley.

"Womanshelter/Compa eras saves lives," said Cavanaugh. "The families we serve are in danger. Some people are afraid of being assaulted outside of their homes. The people we help fear being assaulted inside their own homes."

Cavanaugh said these women need help to stay safe and she is committed to educating the public about the impact of domestic violence with a goal of prevention.

"How many of us could just pack a few things and run out the door, leaving everything and everyone, except our children, behind," she added.

Cavanaugh noted that her organization provides safety planning and court, housing, economic and medical advocacy to individuals and families affected by domestic violence.

"Our goal is to keep families safe," she said adding, "which requires comprehensive and unique services."

When a family comes to Womanshelter/Compa eras, it is usually with what little they can carry.

"We provide for their everyday needs including food, clothing, school supplies, nearly everything any family would need to get through each day," she said. All Womanshelter/Compa eras services are free.

Tickets for the dinner are $7 for adults and $4 for children under 12.

For more information on the community dinner, call (413) 538-9717.