- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Frances Wills (president), Bertha Colbert (vice president) and Inez Robinson (secretary/treasurer) of the D.C. Chapter of the Oblate Sisters of Providence Alumni Association.

Question: Mrs. Wills, what's the purpose of the annual Palm Sunday Dinner?
Answer: It's a fund-raiser for the Oblate Sisters of Providence. This is a tradition here at Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian (Roman Catholic Church).
On Aug. 4, we will celebrate our homecoming the reunion for all of the school's alumni. That's when the 10 alumni chapters return to Mount Providence [the Mother House] in Baltimore. The monies that have been raised by the 10 chapters during the course of the year, along with the membership dues, are then turned over to the moderator, Sister Marina Kelly. After Mass, Sister Marina Kelly lets each alumni chapter know what they've raised.
Last year, our chapter came in second, raising $4,000. The Baltimore chapter turned in $5,000. The sisters need our support. They don't have many nuns left who are teaching, and it's our responsibility to give back. You know, I never liked school, but out of a class of 700 freshmen who entered Howard University, I was in the top 300 academically, and that's due to the education I received from the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
Q: What's on the menu?
A: We will have chicken, ham and pig feet. Along with that, we'll serve cabbage, green beans, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, candied yams, tossed salad, punch and Jell-O. Now, of course, we will have lots of delicious desserts which will be sold separately.
We will also have vendors with clothing, jewelry and books. The nuns make some of the best dish cloths, towels and aprons around, and they will be on hand as well with their wares for sale.
Most people who attend our Palm Sunday Dinner buy a year's supply of dish cloths. And our vendors for the most part are former students of the Oblates.
The dinner and bazaar is held at Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian School at 15th and East Capitol streets in Southeast. We'll start selling dinners in the morning around 9:30 through 4 in the afternoon.
Q: Mrs. Robinson, how much planning is involved in a fund-raiser of this magnitude?
A: We start planning the Palm Sunday Dinner in January. This is our largest fund-raiser of the year, and we sell well over 100 dinners and that's on the low end. It's a labor of love because there's a lot of hard work involved the shoppping, the cooking and the setting-up, but we want to do the best we can for the nuns.
I've been involved with this dinner for over 10 years now. [Although] I'm a member of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Northwest, I do this because the sisters gave us so much when we were growing up. I attended the old St. Cyprian Elementary School in Southeast [formerly directly across from Hine Junior High School]. So this dinner is our way of giving back to them.
The money that's raised helps the nuns to make ends meet and do a few extra things. And the fund raiser also helps the sisters support their Health Care Unit located at the Mother House in Baltimore.
Q: Mrs. Colbert, I understand that you're the chef for this meal. How do you manage to pull it off each year?
A: Many hands make the work light. We enlist as many volunteers as we can, and I assign the specific duties. For instance, I'll assign a team to make the candied yams … and I set up the stations for the cooks to ensure they have everything they need at their disposal. I essentially oversee the entire preparation of the dinner.
On Saturday, our volunteers will meet at the school about 9 a.m., but I'll get there at 8 a.m. As the volunteers start to arrive, I'll begin to assign duties. The three of us will be there until everything is done we usually finish in time to attend 4:30 Mass on Saturday.
On Palm Sunday, we'll arrive at 8 a.m. because people start coming in for their dinners after the 8 a.m. Mass, so we've got to make sure everything is ready.
I started preparing food as a volunteer at Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian school when I retired in 1995. First, I started preparing the food for Bingo, then I started preparing food for the fish fry. One summer I prepared breakfast and lunch for summer school. We also host a dinner to salute our senior citizens every year all those in the parish who are 70 and older.
We host a big dinner for them which includes turkey with all the trimmings along with entertainment. It's just an appreciation for our elders. For seniors who are homebound, we deliver dinners to them. And it's not just for members of the parish. Last month we had a Super Bowl dinner on Feb. 3, and we did a youth dinner on Feb. 10 so I'm always in the kitchen.
Q: Mrs. Wills, how has Palm Sunday dinner attendance been in the past?
A: Pretty good. Sister Marina Kelly sends out menus and tickets to all of the members in the D.C. area well in advance so people can mark their calendars. You know, it seems nobody wants to cook anymore.
Our Palm Sunday dinners are $8, which includes the entree, two vegetables, salad, Jell-O and punch. As I said earlier, we also sell items separately. There's ample space for people to sit down in the Rainbow Room on the lower level of the school and enjoy their meal, or if they prefer, they can take them out. We automatically wrap the dinners for carryout.
Q: I've heard the dinner referred to as the "Chicken, Ham and Pig Foot Dinner." When did the name change?
A: Well, we now call it the "Palm Sunday Dinner." We've dressed it up, so people know that every Palm Sunday they can come over here and get their dinner and buy their trinkets.
Pig feet is something we serve since we've found out that a lot of our folks like pig feet but don't cook them. This is one time out of the year that they can get a pig foot. Of course, we have wonderful ham and beautifully baked and fried chicken. We serve large pieces of chicken, and everybody gets their money's worth while they're seated at an elegantly dressed table.
Q: Does Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian Church serve any other dinners throughout the year?
A: Absolutely. During Lent we prepare seafood dinners on Fridays between noon until 6 p.m. It's another tradition. Other organizations in the church host dinners at various times throughout the year.

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