SOUTH PLAINFIELD - South Plainfield Elks Lodge #2298 Veterans Committee held their Annual St. Patrick's Day Dinner on the evening of March 14. Attendees dined on traditional Irish favorites, corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, carrots, Irish soda bread and an assortment of desserts.
"This event went much better than expected," said Veterans Committee Chairman Brian Csobor. "With the world being upside down the way it is, I was really counting on getting maybe 60 customers, but we blew that number out the door in the first two hours."
The South Plainfield Elks have been hosting the Saint Patrick's Day event for well over 30 years. Elks member and Chairman of Community Welfare, Alan Mateyka, has been volunteering to help for 29 years.
"Everyone did a wonderful job," said Elks member Alan Mateyka, Chairman of Community Welfare. "A lot of people showed up, more than we expected. We had a lot of take-out orders, grab and go."
Csobor's father volunteered, and then Csobor took over running the event.
"I've been involved in this event for 25 years, so the word's on the street," said Csobor. "People come out and support it, and it's great to come out and raise money for the veterans."
Numerous volunteers take part to make the evening a night to remember with a spread of traditional Irish favorites.
"The best part about this is the food," said Mateyka. "It takes a lot of people to put this together. It's a lot of work. They come in early and start the food. We come I later on and we work. Some of them leave and the rest of us clean up. And we have other people who came in to serve and some people brought desserts. It's a group effort. It takes everyone to pitch in and do their part."
"It's tremendous and it makes everyone in the kitchen feel good," said Csobor. "We're back there having a great time, joking around. As an Elk, it makes us feel good to give our time to help a cause out. Whether it be special needs children or a vet, it makes life worthwhile instead of sitting home watching TV."
Those who came out to partake in the longstanding tradition say they had a wonderful night.
"We came last year for the first time, and we really had a good time, and we enjoyed it, so the three of us decided to come again this year," said Betty Hixon, military spouse. "We didn't let anything stop us."
"I'm a grateful veteran," said Veteran Jim Hixon. "I'm a life member of the Elks, and I appreciate what the Elks are doing. I'm really invested in my Vietnam Chapter. We all belong to the Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 233 out of Metuchen. We're very appreciative of what the South Plainfield Elks do here to support the veterans."
"We were really impressed with this event last year, so we decided to come back," said Second Class Petty Officer and Data Processing Technician during Vietnam, Robin Goodrich. "They usually have a couple of tables of veterans from the veterans' home who couldn't come because they are quarantined. They can't come out of the building."
The Saint Patrick's Day meal has always benefited the veterans and the lodge hosts special guests for the event, the Menlo Park Home Veterans. Unfortunately, they were unable to attend due to the COVID 19 quarantine.
"Usually we have 20 or 25 veterans come from the Menlo Park Home Veterans," said Csobor. "Every year they're here and we serve them first. Then the public comes in, but unfortunately, they couldn't make it this year because of the coronavirus situation."
Amidst mass cancellations of public events, the lodge decided to go ahead with the fundraiser.
"We never considered canceling," said Csobor. "Tom Brady was here cleaning the place down, spraying Lysol. This is probably one of the cleanest lodges around. It's spotless, and we pay a cleaner to come in five times a week so it is clean. It's an organization."
Although the turnout was not as large as expected, the night still raised a great amount of funds for the veterans and dinners say it was delicious.
"I'm very appreciative of the meal here tonight," said Goodrich. "It's just sad that given the circumstances, a lot of people stayed away and that's sad because a lot of work went into this. The food was excellent."
"We had a lot more take outs this year," said Csobor. "It was still a decent crowd. The turnout was a little but down, but all in all, if we had this every year, it's a good night, so it's a win. I hope we can do it again next year!"