It’s a great spaghetti dinner, but it’s also so much more.
When the Queenston Firefighters Association puts on the all-you-can-eat dinner, it’s a fundraiser for the community, as well as a great social event that brings locals together for a meal, a good cause, and camaraderie amongst friends and neighbours, says Rob Copeland.
A retired firefighter now volunteering with the auxiliary, Copeland says the event carries on a firefighters’ tradition, to give back to their community.
Although to most of us, having brave, dedicated men and women willing to risk their lives for the safety of others is more than enough, firefighters’ associations are formed to do more.
“It’s a tradition with firefighters long before we were around,” says Copeland. “Volunteer firefighters in every community across North America do their training, commit to the time, but at the same time help the community in different ways.”
They raise funds to give back to the community wherever needed, he says. In the case of the Queenston association, over past years, fundraising turkey rolls were held, then as the popularity of those events dropped off, and volunteers were looking for an alternative, Copeland suggested a spaghetti dinner.
It turned out to be more successful than they anticipated as a fundraiser, but also as a community get-together, he said.
“We started in 1996. It began as an idea to raise money. People were starting to lose interest in the turkey rolls, and we were raising money for minor sports, so we had to find another way. I came up wth the spaghetti dinner.”
His wife Helena does all the cooking at home, but he got into the spirit of spaghetti as part of a team of four volunteers who do the cooking, he says.
Louis Prue is in charge of the meatballs, sauce, and salad, and while the sauce is slowly simmering the day of the event, the others get started on the spaghetti.
“We like to have it ready by 4:30. It doesn’t start until 5 p.m., but there are always people who come early. It all kind of works out in the end.”
Proceeds from the fundraiser, held twice a year, used to be given to minor sports. Now it’s expanded to include other needs in the community, and requests that come in for donations, says Copeland.
Over the years, the tradition has become to let the chairman of that year’s committee choose a local cause for the donations.
One year it was to help the St. Davids Lions Club pay for a seeing-eye dog guide for a member’s blind grandson.
In 2016, donations were sent to help out after the wildfires in Fort McMurray — that year, Canadians donated $323 million, the largest ever response to a Canadian disaster.
In 2017, proceeds were given to the local squadron of air cadets to help pay for a trip to France to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Vimy Ridge.
This year’s recipient has not been decided, Copeland says.
“Sometimes we donate to just one cause. Sometimes it’s many causes, or we hang onto to the funds to give out during the year, wherever the need is. We’ve helped pay for smart boards at St. Davids School, and for the new arena in Virgil. It can go wherever it’s needed.”
He says Bain Printing has helped out for years by donating the printing of placemats, which are sponsored by local businesses, and Sweets & Swirls, the community centre cafe, provides treats which help distinguish the Queenston spaghetti dinner from other events.
Copeland says the firefighters’ association has also received huge support from Queenston resident Graham Keene, the owner of the Canadian Tire franchise on Welland Avenue in St. Catharines.
For the last spaghetti dinner, Keene donated a Schwinn bicycle and a Magellan hand-held portable GPS unit, which was won by MPP Wayne Gates.
Gates donated it back to the firefighters’ association, and it will be raffled off at the coming event.
In addition, says Copeland, when he stopped by the Canadian Tire at Keene’s request, to pick up donations for this event, “I felt like I was walking around the store with Santa Claus, in Santa’s workshop.”
Keene got him a shopping cart, and as they walked through the store, kept throwing great prizes into the basket.
“He gave us seven major prizes. Any one of them would’ve been a great prize on its own. It was incredible.”
That kind of generosity to boost the firefighters’ community service makes them feel that what they are doing is appreciated, he said.
“It contributes to the feeling that you, as a volunteer firefighter, and a member of the community, want to give back in another way.”
The Queenston Volunteer Firefighters Association is hosting this fall’s all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner at the Queenston Firehall Friday, Oct. 4 from 5 to 7:30 p.m., with spaghetti, salad, and bread.
Dinner is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 years and under.
Takeout dinners will also be available.