For 20 years, two bedrocks of the Freeport Interfaith Nutrition Network soup kitchen have spent every Tuesday, without fail, helping Nassau County’s needy. And even at 91 and 92, respectively, Charlie and Gloria Chapman, of Bellmore, told the Herald recently that they have no plans to stop volunteering any time soon.
“On Tuesdays, that’s where we are,” Gloria said. “We never do anything else.”
Charlie, who worked for years as a production manager at a manufacturing company, was born in Brooklyn, and Gloria, a retired bookkeeper, was born in Roosevelt. They married in 1949, after both had moved to Bellmore in the mid-1930s. They still finish each other’s sentences.
Sitting at opposite ends of a love seat, next to a small artificial Christmas tree — the holidays aren’t such a big deal for them nowadays, Gloria said — in their living room, the couple spoke about their decades of volunteer work with a gentle, prickly rhythm of interruptions and corrections.
“She’s had to listen to me all these years,” Charlie said, laughing after his wife corrected him on a detail of her past volunteerism. “Well, sometimes she does.”
The Chapmans started volunteering at the soup kitchen roughly two decades ago, after Gloria joined their daughter, Susan Giannone, then a Nassau County police officer, to help out one afternoon.
“She had her uniform on, and that wasn’t too popular with some of the people,” Gloria recalled.
The Chapmans began making their Tuesday trips to the soup kitchen, then located on Babylon Turnpike, to serve meals, while collecting donations from parishioners at their church, St. John’s Lutheran.
Now, with the soup kitchen at its new home at Christ Lutheran Church in Freeport, Gloria has established an operation wing all her own, dubbed by other volunteers “Gloria’s Clothing Boutique,” which INN Co-president Marian Hart said “Would rival any East End thrift shop.”
Gloria’s corner at the INN, Hart said, is meticulously arranged in a colorful, eye-catching display each day, with clothes hung in size order. “No one at the INN gives the time and care that ‘Chapman and Company’ does,” Hart said.
Charlie was modest about the part he and his wife play at the INN. “It’s not really anything more than bringing in the donations,” he said several times, adding that younger volunteers “really do all the heavy lifting.”
Bob Wilson, the INN’s other co-president, disagreed. “They’re two of the hardest-working volunteers we have,” he said of the Chapmans. “They get the job done.”
Wilson met the couple on a Tuesday five or six years ago, he said, and was struck right away by their positive energy — “like 20-year-olds.” These days, the three of them regularly meet for lunch or dinner, outside their volunteer work.
“They’re just a joy, and it’s so great, especially in today’s world, to see two people who are married that long and just fit so well together,” Wilson said.
In addition to lugging carloads of donations between the church, their home and the INN and manning Gloria’s Clothing Boutique, the Chapmans prepare and serve lunchtime meals. Charlie also serves as the INN’s “jack of trades,” according to Hart, making up and printing volunteer contact lists and a set of signs for the INN’s three-compartment sink.
He’s “always at the ready when it comes to filling in the odds-and-ends tasks where needed,” Hart said.
Joanne Urban, of Wantagh, said that she met with the Chapmans several years ago, when she was trying to donate some clothes and household items to the INN. Urban recalled her surprise at the sheer volume of donations the couple squeezed into their small Hyundai — and how they welcomed her into their home when she dropped off the items. “They’re remarkable people,” she said.
According to Charlie, other volunteers called their vehicle the Clown Car.
“They’d say, ‘How the hell did you fit all that in that car?’” he said. “We’d be unloading, and it just wouldn’t end.”
According to Charlie, Gloria’s volunteering goes back decades further than his, to her work at South Nassau Communities Hospital, in the Girl Scouts, the Bellmore Garden Club and the Lions Club.
Gloria also serves in the Mepham High School Alumni Association, having seen the construction of the Bellmore school firsthand in 1935 and later earning her diploma there. She organized the class of 1943’s 70th reunion in 2013.
“I didn’t miss a trick,” she said with a smile.
The Chapmans retired in the late 1980s, and spent several years “trekking all over” the United States and Europe, where, they said, their favorite places were Spain and Gibraltar, and one of their favorite activities was meeting people.
“They’re very nice, and they’re just like us.” Gloria said. “They hate their politicians!”
With their daughter, Giannone, living in Florida now, retired and doing some traveling of her own, and many of their old friends no longer alive, the Chapmans find plenty of warmth and companionship in their work at the INN, where they said they have been able to see the effects of their volunteering.
“The whole thing is meaningful, because we’re helping needy people,” Charlie said.
“You can see how it’s grown, and the people we’ve gotten to,” Gloria agreed. “A lot of the people aren’t as downtrodden as they used to be. The whole thing has evolved, and everybody seems to have a chance, and it’s very nice.”
The Chapmans have no plans to change their Tuesday routines any time soon. “We don’t plan to stop,” said Gloria — as Charlie interrupted, saying, “With God’s help.”
“If you’re lucky enough to have your health,” he said, “why would you stop?”