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Michigan widows come together for dinner ahead of Valentine's Day

The groups "I Understand" and "Food Hugs" teamed up to provide dinner for the group at Amore Trattoria Italiana in Comstock Park.

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — The back room of Amore Trattoria Italiana is packed to the brim. There are dozens of people, a massive table, plates full of delicious food being delivered, and enough love to fill the whole restaurant.

Just days before Valentine's Day, everyone in this room is dealing with a common struggle - the loss of a spouse.

"I've been a widow. I know what it's like when January comes around, and all those red hearts come out. And it's all about romantic love and making reservations," said Vonnie Woodrick who is the founder of an organization called I Understand.

For the last five years, the group has teamed up with another non-profit, Food Hugs, to provide a meal especially for widows and widowers. Food Hugs was founded by Amore's owner and chef Jenna Arcidiacono.

"It's just gotten bigger every year, and it's just something that warms my heart. I have met the most amazing people and we just become friends. It's just about love and connecting with other humans and being kind to one another."

Pat Hoekstra lost her husband Tom to kidney cancer seven years ago, and she's come to each of these dinners. She says it's helped her make lifelong friends.

"Everybody was warm, welcoming, and I've continued to see some of the people. They'll go out for dinner or lunch to get together. We'll cry together and laugh together. It's just a special time," Pat said.

"When we get together, we can share our stories. And we can just have a wonderful time of laughter and just enjoying each other, and it's wonderful."

Whether you're someone who has lost a loved one, or you know someone who has, Pat says you shouldn't be afraid to reach out to someone.

"Just being with someone is the best thing you can do. It doesn't take a lot of words. Just feel free to invite and open yourself up," she said.

Chef Jenna says she's seen proof of how powerful that willingness to connect can be.

"Even tonight, someone came in and said, 'I haven't been out of bed for three months. I came today. And I didn't want to, but I knew I needed to get up, get out of bed, put some makeup on and come in," she said.

"And gosh, what's better than helping even one person just struggling with with anything they're struggling with?"

If you need emotional support and don't know where to find it, Vonnie says you can call 9-8-8 to be connected with services in your area that can help.

"I think it's really important that if you are grieving, if you are feeling lonely, if you are celebrating Valentine's Day alone, know that you're not alone. Reach out. Help is available 24/7," she said.

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