Volunteer Group Named Guardians of the Community

Volunteer Group Named Guardians of the Community

Josh Naylor and the Perky Pantry Engineers smile for a photo together.Perky Pantry Engineers to be Honored at Progressive Field, Throw First Pitch

On Tuesday, May 21, a dedicated group of long-term volunteers from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Ohio will be honored as Guardians of the Community in a pre-game ceremony at Progressive Field. The seven women, collectively called the Perky Pantry Engineers, are well known around the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House for their years of support, and lots of smiles. The group will appear on the infield, where Mary Jane Soltysiak will throw the first pitch.

“I think it’s pretty clear where the first part of the name (Perky Pantry Engineers) comes from,” says Nan Volpe, a proud member of the team, “we are pretty perky and we laugh a lot!” The rest of the name is a nod to the amazing work the group is known for, which involves more than just cooking and serving meals. With donated food coming in from all kinds of places, it takes an engineer (or seven) to organize and get the most out of what is available.

women and man posing with jungle themed decorations

Ray Flanagan with Perky Pantry Ladies

Ray Flanagan, Family Meal Program Manager, recalls meeting the crew when he was hired in 2022. “I was brought in to manage this program, but it was pretty clear from the start who really runs things in this kitchen. I can’t say enough about these ladies – they are reliable, creative and passionate about serving our families. I have learned so much from them.”

Their wisdom comes from a wealth of experience preparing meals for guests of the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House. How much experience? Well, collectively the group has amassed an incredible 100 years of volunteer service and contributed more than 20,000 hours of time to the Family Meal Program. These numbers grow each week thanks to their continued dedication.

Mary Jane Soltysiak, the longest serving member of group, began volunteering in 2001, followed by Donna Mascio in 2005 and Nan Volpe who joined in the fun in 2008. In the next decade they welcomed with open arms Jill Chuha (2010), Susan Weaver (2013), Heather Findeisen (2015), and Bonnie Bernstein (2017).

Over the years, the Perky Pantry Engineers have contributed in many ways. They have planned and prepared countless meals for families, helped make moms staying at the House feel special with Mother’s Day luncheons, and prepared and packaged hundreds of boxed lunches to send to pediatric families at local hospitals.

The group is a bit of an exclusive club. They work well together so they want to make sure that anyone they bring on board has the same commitment and work ethic as the rest of the team.

I started volunteering at the front desk, but I couldn’t sit still. I saw how much fun they were having in the kitchen so I asked if I could join. They gave me a try and eventually I became official.

Susan Weaver

Josh Naylor and the Perky Pantry Engineers smile for a photo together.In an unprecedented move the group added an honorary member to their exclusive group, extending an apron to RMHC NEO volunteer and Cleveland Guardians’ first baseman, Josh Naylor. “He does a really good job. There’s a lot of potential there,” says Nan Volpe. “It was a pretty easy vote when we decided to make him an honorary part of our team! Josh has teamed up with the Perky Pantry Engineers a few times, making treats such as Skor Bars, a recipe Josh’s mom made for him growing up.

Volunteers are invaluable to the community of RMHC NEO.  They help make the House a home, cook meals to keep our families fed, keep our spaces clean and welcoming for guests, and keep our programs running smoothly.

We all started volunteering because of the mission. We were drawn to it and wanted to be a part of it. But we all keep coming back because of each other. These friendships keep me coming back.

Mary Jane Soltysiak