Connie Ortolani with her Food Hero, husband Philip Ortolani

 

When I was thinking about my food hero, I had all sorts of great things about my Mom and all these stories about being Greek, but I realized the person that's really affected me the most was my husband. We both grew up in Boston. I am Greek and he was Italian. If you've ever seen my Big Fat Greek Wedding, it was like that. Our families blended so well, it was amazing. And so much of it around food. We would go to his family's big Italian Thanksgivings and I would make my family's spanakopita recipe for potlucks. 

We ended up in Maine because of my husband's job. Before he worked at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick he was a consultant and he traveled the state. After he consulted at Mid Coast, they will in love with him and asked him to go there. That's where he worked until he retired. I had different jobs through the years, having two young kids, but I started as an Ed Tech and fell in love with special education so went and got my masters. 

He liked cooking and was good at it, but he was so good at everything. His lasagna was amazing. And barbequing. He was great at barbequing for the family. But the best part was, he would cook me breakfast every weekend. He worked some long hours, but those weekends were ours. I got to choose what I wanted. I could either have pancakes or I would have French toast, or he'd make me a special omelet. There was always a bowl of fruit on the side, the coffee was all made and ready, there'd always be cut flowers from the garden, and that was our way of starting the weekend. He let work go, I let work go, and we just sat, sometimes out on our deck watching the birds, and sometimes in our kitchen. I just can't stop thinking about that. 

Philip passed away three and a half years ago in an accident. We were visiting his sister in Florida, and were walking down the street. We were supposed to come home the next day. A car hit the pole. He was killed, I was knocked out and another young woman was knocked out too. The thing was, he was the rock of the family. After losing him it was hard to find what to do and where to go and that's where Wayside came in. 

I used to volunteer with Wayside once a month at the Community Meals and then when I lost him, I needed something else to do. So that's when I started volunteering two nights a week. The best part was just getting there and seeing the other volunteers like David, Dana and Tom, it was always just so much fun. We would joke with each other, go back and forth about things and always be there for each other. And then I started to get to know the people coming into the supper. There are "the ladies" as we call them; Maria, Jean, Kelly and all the rest of them. Everyone is like family to me now. When I arrive, I get hugs, I get 'hellos', and that all just felt so good. 

When new people come to the meal, I can see on their faces they're not quite comfortable, it's maybe a little hard. The best part is starting to talk with them, making them feel comfortable and before you know it, you're hearing their stories. The first thing so many say is "this food is so wonderful" and I always say, "yeah, well I don't make it, that's why it's so good." And then we all laugh. But all it takes is a smile and a few words. You can tell that's why people keep coming back; because they enjoy the whole atmosphere. It really is community. It feels wonderful to be there for the guests but I'm getting just as much in return. It goes both ways and that's what I love so much about the program. I just want everyone to know that's why Wayside means so much to me, you know it really does. I have people to see and laugh with and I get to be around food and yeah, it's very important to me.