Diner Dudes like their food, but helping others fills them, too

By Jeff Wolfe

A group of men who enjoy filling their stomachs each Tuesday morning at the Swedesboro Diner, are experiencing a different kind of fulfillment these days.

They call themselves the Diner Dudes because of the location they choose to eat at. But they may soon find another name for themselves because of the good deeds they have been doing for about the past year.

MEMBERS OF THE DINER DUDES: (left to right) Chris Destratis, Alan Lloyd, Steve Vernaccio, Christian Hensel, and Ken Markizon.
MEMBERS OF THE DINER DUDES: (left to right) Chris Destratis, Alan Lloyd, Steve Vernaccio, Christian Hensel, and Ken Markizon.

A group of about 10 men who attend Crossbridge Church in Woolwich Township have been doing odd jobs, sometimes small, sometimes rather large, for people in need not because they feel like they have to, but because they want to. It’s part of their calling.

“When things start to go wrong, we quickly forget that God loves us and is in control,” said group member Chris DeStratis. “We start to believe that He has forgotten about us, or worse, that He doesn’t care what is happening in our lives. To me, the Diner Dudes are all about reminding people that God is near to them, listening to their prayers, and working for their good.”

One of the prayers they answered was from former Woolwich resident Kathy Crump, who needed to move after her husband passed away about six months ago.

“My kids and I are trying to start a new life and they came at the perfect time,” said Crump. “I would have been lost. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. They came to pack my house up, move into the truck and then came over to the new house and helped me unpack.”

And what stuck out to Crump is that this wasn’t just one day act of kindness. She mentioned they came over about a half dozen times to help with various packing and unpacking needs.

“They probably came over more times than that,” she said. “They helped me organize where things went, they moved stuff into the storage containers and into the moving truck. They did anything and everything and went over and beyond what I expected.”

The men have done several other things too. They include committing to mow a yard for a woman for the rest of the summer, replacing old outside steps to a house doorway that were loose and dangerous to maneuver, doing some basic home remodeling for a woman whose husband was away for a while, and helping rescue the home of a single mother who was having her home renovated, only for it to be abandoned by the contractor.

The men also do not take any financial rewards for the efforts. Just seeing how the people react to the various things they do is enough. Group member Ken Markizon gave an account of one situation where that reward was special.

“My wife’s best friend has a husband who needed to be away from home for an extended period of time,” Markizon said. “She was very sad and overwhelmed about the condition of her house and the exhaustion that comes with little kids. My wife knew what the guys were trying to do and she made a list with her friend of seven or eight things that needed to be done. Four of us went over there and worked for six hours and painted, hung a ceiling fan, hung some shelves, etc.

“That night my wife talked to her friend on the phone and they were cracking up about how me and the guys did our work. Remember, we’re not claiming to be experts at some of this stuff. But my wife said it was the first time she heard her friend laugh in sixth months. That was the best for me.”

Group member Christian Benjamin said a phone message from a woman they did yard work for stuck out to him.

“Someone played a voice message from a woman we helped with her yard where she called to say thank you,” Benjamin said. “She probably ended up saying it almost 10 times in a 30 second message.”

Benjamin pointed out though, while the group enjoys positive feedback, it doesn’t count on such reactions. They are not motivated by human rewards.

“Please understand it’s not about the reaction, or getting a thank you” Benjamin said. “We hope our mission is clear that we are doing the work of God to help those in need and we are just doing our part in His master plan.”

Markizon and the rest of the group believe just who they help is part of that master plan.

“As a group we pray a lot and we believe that God uses people to bring about good in this world,” Markizon said. “We pray that God chooses us in ways we can handle – and honor Him. We wrote a mission that is to prayerfully search for opportunities to meet the needs of our neighbors and share Jesus’ love with our neighbors as best we can.”

The men admit that they are not handyman experts, and that some jobs are learn-by-experience situations.

“A friend of a friend is an expert drywaller and he was happy to help us on the one project that required drywall,” Markizon said. “We’re not masons either, but we figured out how to make some concrete from Home Depot and secure bricks on some steps. The projects we’ve been a part of so far haven’t required expertise.”

Alan Lloyd from Diner Dudes repairs some steps as Nicky Markizon and Nora Lloyd look on.
Alan Lloyd from Diner Dudes repairs some steps as Nicky Markizon and Nora Lloyd look on.

One thing the men feel like they have not experienced so far is being taken advantage of for the good things they do. While aware of the possibility, they believe the people they have helped to this point were truly in need.

“We don’t worry about that at all,” said group member Ben Cowan. “We are doing what we feel God has called us to do. I believe He is going to continue to bring the right opportunities our way. It is something we have to be wise about though because as our work continues to spread there is potential for that to happen.”

That means there is no formal screening of people who need things done. It’s basically contact them and one of the group members gets back to you to see exactly what the job requires. They have even set up an email address at emailthedinerdudes@gmail.com.

But Cowan says a different form of communication has helped them have a busier summer then they anticipated.

“Up until the beginning of the summer we had not found a lot of projects that were coming our way,” he said. “During one of our Tuesday morning breakfasts we prayed that our influence in the local area would expand. Things have really taken off since then and it really seems like an answer to prayer.”

But their real motivation isn’t simply to just help people with things they can’t fix, but to show others that God is near in difficult times.

“We are so blessed that we want to give back to others,” Cowan said. “God has blessed us with so many things that we take for granted. If we are able to make a difference in people’s lives, even if it is a small difference, it could have a big impact on someone. The other motivation is trying to show people God’s love. I truly believe that if we want people to know how good God is and have a relationship with Him, we need to show others His love through our actions.”

Benjamin even points out the specific type of goodness, or love, the group is trying to show others.

“The Greek has two words for good. ‘Agathos’ and ‘kalos.’ Agathos describes quality of goodness whereas Kalos is goodness that’s beautiful and attractive. The work we do for others is a ‘kalos’ type of good deed. We are trying to show the beautiful love of God and attract others to Him.”

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Swedesboro NJ
October 27, 2020, 1:16 pm
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