GROTON, Conn. (AP) — Every Monday, 63-year-old Rob Lawrence cooks for 100 people.
He “shops” at the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, takes what he finds there and combines it with food from Groton Human Services, and starts cooking at 2:30 p.m. at the Groton Senior Center.
At 6 p.m., he and other volunteers with Groton Community Meals serve 90 to 125 people at the soup kitchen.
Lawrence, of Ledyard, has not missed a Monday cooking since Groton Community Meals began in September 2014.
“I like the idea of feeding people and helping,” said Lawrence, who served in the Navy from 1972 until 1978. “Because, as you know, there’s a lot of people who can really use a meal.”
The soup kitchen has served an estimated 13,200 meals.
“Even when we give him the night off, he still comes in,” said volunteer Beverly Washington, describing Lawrence.
He has a degree in food service management from Three Rivers Community College and once owned a restaurant called the Sea Breeze Delicatessen in Texas. But he’s a pipefitter by trade.
“Cooking’s my first love, but you can’t make a living on it,” he said, turning over coals to cook last week.
He worked in pipefitting from the 1970s until about four years ago, after having back surgery. He picked up a piece of steel the wrong way, and the injury worsened and caught up with him, he said.
Doctors repaired his back and placed rods in it, but Lawrence still hoists boxes of carrots, potatoes and onions to bring to the soup kitchen. He takes a cart along to make things easier, since he can’t carry a load heavier than 30 pounds.
“Luckily, this injury didn’t hurt my standing abilities,” he said, and puffed on a cigar while taking a short break. He’d baked duck and lamb last week but wanted to add some flavor to the lamb. So he fired up a grill behind the senior center and debated whether some mesquite wood and an aluminum tent would do the trick.
“I just want to get a little smoke on them,” he said.
If he could, he’d run an even larger soup kitchen, he said. He’d cook chicken, rice and beans for the masses.
Lawrence’s birthday was on May 22, a Monday. He didn’t tell his fellow volunteers, and showed up to cook, as always. His colleagues figured it out after he arrived.
“We have a good time,” said Doug Mansfield, who makes soup from scratch alongside Lawrence on Mondays. “We’re all like-minded. We all want to do something — pay it back to the rest of humanity. We take pride in the fact that what we do is appreciated.”
People who eat at Groton Community Meals know Lawrence and Mansfield by name.
“Never have they put out a bad meal,” said David Brink, who eats there weekly. “They even come out and ask us how it is, is everything up to par, did you have enough to eat?”
Sometimes, a volunteer will check in with Brink, put a hand on his shoulder and ask how he is. He’s grateful for the thoughtfulness, he said.
Marge Fondulas, director of Groton Human Services, said Lawrence wears his “heart on his sleeve” when it comes to a cause he believes in.
“Rob is such a good man with a kind and good heart, and he deserves to be recognized for his dedicated volunteer work,” she said. Lawrence offered to help the day he heard about the soup kitchen.
“He was good to his word,” Fondulas said, “and it’s because of his hard work, skills and dedication that (Groton Community Meals) has been the success it is.”
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