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Hot meal helps church stay warm

WESTPORT - Members of one local church are working to keep their place of worship a cozy one this winter by making the most of their time and talents.

St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Westport held its third annual Spaghetti Dinner Sept. 26, offering people in the community a full-service three-course meal at an unbeatable price.

The event is a fundraiser for the St. Philip Neri fuel fund, which primarily goes towards the cost of fuel oil for the small church.

Lucy Connell, a Wadhams resident and long-time church member, started holding the fundraiser in 2007 when staggering increases in heating fuel costs started to weigh heavily on the parish.

More than a dozen friends and fellow church members joined in to help, preparing food, waiting tables, and washing dishes. Other businesses and individuals contributed raffle items or food for the cause.

"Thank God I have all these girls to help me," said Connell, "because I couldn't do it by myself."

Volunteers have repeated the effort every year since, drawing more than 100 people over the course of the afternoon and evening for salad, spaghetti, and homemade desserts.

Father Peter Riani, the parish priest, said the annual fundraiser has been valuable for the small Westport church.

"It's been very helpful," said Riani, "especially the year before last when we had the high costs of fuel."

In addition to the church itself, he said, fuel is also needed for the church's rectory, as well as the parish fellowship hall, which accommodates a community food pantry.

"We're very grateful for the people who have patronized and helped make it a success," Riani added.

"I just think that if you're a member of a community, you should be helping in any way you can," said Connell. "If you have an expertise, you should be using it to better the community you live in."

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