Behind the serving stations at St. Vincent de Paul’s Mesa Dining Room, guests will frequently encounter a pair of athlete brothers, dishing up lunch or hauling boxes of food. Gabriel, 18, and Matteo Ortiz, 16, have made volunteering at the dining room part of their regular routine.
The brothers, who attend Seton Catholic Preparatory School in Chandler and play for the Seton football team, began volunteering there when Gabriel first needed to meet mandatory service hours for school as a freshman. Matteo, still in eighth grade at the time, tagged along with his brother.
Now heading into their senior and junior years, respectively, Gabriel and Matteo continue to volunteer at the Mesa Dining Room—sometimes every Saturday—and not because they need more hours or because mom and dad demand it. They return and donate their time and energy because they find fulfillment in serving.
“It feels good in my heart,” Gabriel said. “Like, hey I did this today. I helped someone today.”
“For me, it’s religious,” Matteo said. “You know we’re helping people. That’s literally what Jesus came to do. So we’re doing God’s work, helping those in need.”
Over their four years of volunteering, they’ve found value in the relationships formed with some of the regular guests and service staff. There’s an older gentleman from Sonora who comes for coffee with whom they particularly enjoy talking.
That inclusive attitude and service heart isn’t just something they happened upon either. Gabe and Anna Ortiz, the boys’ parents, introduced them to volunteering at a young age.
“My husband and I have always said that we’ve been blessed in so many ways that you have to give back,” Anna said.
The boys have memories of first serving at SVdP’s Phoenix Dining Room on the Human Services Campus when they were about nine or ten years old.
“It’s pretty eye-opening,” Gabriel said. “You become grateful for what you have. It also helped me get rid of the stereotypes about homeless people. They are from all walks of life.”
“It’s like seeing the real world,” Matteo added. “It’s different when you’re there serving and submerged in it. You may be serving someone who just got laid off, needs a meal, has a mental health issue or an addiction.”
Their father Gabe says that early exposure had a big impact on the boys and on their continued service, which has transformed family time around the dinner table.
“Conversations changed,” he said. “Now they come home and talk about perceptions of people. And that’s important as adults. We all know that somebody could be having a bad day and that you don’t know what kind of demons they may be facing.”
That worldly compassion and understanding has seeped into boys’ life goals and career aspirations as well. They both want to help people. Matteo wants to go into orthopedic medicine and Gabriel is hoping to pursue law.
“One thing I saw here was that a lot of people are ex criminals, and they’ve made mistakes, but now they’re having to pay a severe punishment for it,” said Gabriel, who is a believer in second chances and in correcting overly harsh sentencing and punishment that creates unbearable living situations for people.
Their parents are also proud of how volunteering has translated into leadership among their peers.
“They set the example more than they know,” their dad said. “The fact that they’re serving, that they don’t care what someone looks like, they’re still going to talk to them, that they’re inclusive—that’s a leader. Then their peers see it’s cool to serve. It’s cool to come here on a Friday night and be in your uniform.”
And that’s one thing the Ortiz boys are hoping—that more young volunteers will join them in serving others at SVdP.
“Don’t be afraid to come here and help,” Gabriel said. “I know some people might be nervous about the area or the type of people—don’t be afraid—we’re all just people.”
“And we always need help,” Matteo added. “Don’t be afraid to join the SVdP family. You’ll be included.”