If you’re looking for a “Kitchen Confidential”-style showdown, just try serving a subpar dish while Evelyn Koprowski is in charge at the Marian House Soup Kitchen.
A Catholic Charities volunteer for 26 years – along with her equally devoted husband, Dick – she asks that fellow volunteers taste everything before it’s served. A central tenet in the Koprowski code: If the cooks won’t eat it, no one should. “These are human beings and they want to be served something good,” she says sternly. Being tough critics is only part of the job at the soup kitchen, at 14 W. Bijou St.
Together, the Koprowskis persuade, advise and inspire as many as 35 volunteers at a time during their food service days, which fall on the last Thursday and fifth Saturday of most months. They make sure there are enough people to do every job. They supervise the menu to see that everything is up to snuff. And they work with the crowd to promote a cheerful atmosphere.
“During serving time, they’re greeting our guests by name,” said Catholic Charities spokeswoman Rochelle Schlortt. “They’re giving them hugs, they’re asking about their progress. They greet them as old friends. They’re good as gold.”
When it comes to the value of volunteerism, the phrase is hardly a stretch: During the fiscal year that ended in July, Marian House volunteers donated 77,569 hours – an estimated $1.9 million worth of labor, according to figures provided by the charity. That number rises to $2.3 million when it includes other services provided by Catholic Charities, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of operating the Marian House.
For the Koprowskis, it’s a calling.
“It’s called giving back to God,” says Dick Koprowski. “We look at it as our ministry.”
The two began volunteering shortly after moving to Colorado Springs from Plano, Texas, in 1988, and quickly found they had a knack for the work. Back in Texas, the Koprowskis were just too busy to do much volunteering – Dick with the requirements of a supervisory job at Xerox and Evelyn with her work as a real estate agent. After arriving in Colorado, they said they were determined to make the time. Both love to cook, and Evelyn – who brims with pep – helps keep it all on track.
“I’m an organizer,” Evelyn says. “All my i’s have to be dotted and all my t’s have to be crossed.”
This year, they worked on Thanksgiving and are scheduled to work on Christmas, but they’re not complaining. Says Evelyn: “To have a client come and say, ‘Thank you – you fed me,’ you’ve done God’s work.”
Now that they’re both retired, the Koprowskis say they’re looking to take on an expanded role by driving the trucks that pick up donated food. They had been doing food pickups three days a week but were sidelined by Dick’s knee replacement surgery in October.
By Lance Bensel
Reprinted from The Gazette – Dec. 7, 2014
Editors Note: The Koprowski’s are still volunteering, now in their 35th year (2023)