Actress Aubrey Plaza revisits Delaware childhood, joining 4-H volunteers// here is the normal content // ?>
When Aubrey Plaza served lunch to those in need at Wilmington’s Emmanuel Dining Room on Monday afternoon, none of the hungry men, women or children recognized the actress from her starring television and film roles. However, they clearly recognized her efforts, along with a team of 10 youth from Delaware 4-H, who served plates of baked ziti, string beans and cookies to 169 people seeking a hot meal
Plaza, who was in town visiting her family over the weekend, is the national Service Ambassador for 4-H, the youth organization. 4-H features a network of 110 public universities across the nation that provide young people experiences, allowing them to “learn by doing” in an effort to better their own lives and their local community.
The Ursuline Academy graduate says it was an easy decision to volunteer back home in Delaware during National Volunteer Appreciation Month. After all, she was an active 4-H member with a now-defunct Wilmington chapter (Highlanders 4-H) starting at the age of 8.
As a young girl, she volunteered at the Ministry of Caring’s child care center, located a half block from the ministry’s Emmanuel Dining Room on North Jackson Street, along with the Mary Campbell Center, a home for adults and children with disabilities.
“We could have done it anywhere in the country, but I really wanted to come back to the places where I used to go,” Plaza said. She remembers dressing up as the Easter Bunny some years and taking photos with children. “And now that I’m here doing it, it’s a reminder that I don’t do it enough. I really should make this a bigger part of my life.”
It was then that she first saw and felt the first-hand effect of volunteerism and giving back, seeing not only the impact it has on those being helped, but also the warm feeling that fills you while helping.
“Being exposed to vulnerable situations at a young age also teaches you empathy and makes you a better person,” says Plaza, 34. She has starred in a range of shows from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” to films such as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.”
While Plaza did not want her under-the-radar visit to be a full-scale media event, she did allow a News Journal reporter to attend the lunch with hopes it would help spread the word about 4-H’s mission and local work. In recent decades, the nonprofit organization has moved its focus from primarily agricultural activities to stress personal growth and development of learning skills that can be used throughout the lives of its members.
As Plaza delivered meals while wearing a white hairnet and red apron, the former head of her childhood 4-H club, Larry Shaffer, watched, beaming with pride. Even though the 83-year-old was experiencing severe sciatica pain when he stood, he couldn’t miss seeing one 4-H generation helping the next. “It really makes me feel like a million dollars. I love this stuff,” Shaffer said while sitting in a folding chair in the corner, smiling as plates hit the table. “She comes back here a lot and never forgot about where she comes from.”
Plaza even touts 4-H while promoting her own projects on late night talk shows, memorably reciting the 4-H Pledge with “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert in 2017.
Pei Cheng, public relations manager for the National 4-H Council, accompanied Plaza for the afternoon of service. In addition to being a service ambassador, Plaza was awarded 4-H’s Distinguished Alumni Medallion in 2017. “This was a perfect way for her to come back, pay it forward and serve the people that she’s served before,” Cheng said. “As our ambassador, she encourages 4-H’ers to be a part of service events, so this is her leading by example.”
Plaza said she hopes some of the youth that were with her Monday will return to the Ministry of Caring and volunteer again. And from the looks on their faces as they worked alongside Plaza, it seems as though that’s likely to happen.
“I know how doing things like this can change your life as a kid,” Plaza added.
Middletown’s Hunter Willoughby, a 17-year-old 4-H member, spent his afternoon at the ministry’s daycare center playing with children.”I got to talk to [Plaza] earlier and we had some common experiences, like how we both went to Atlanta, Georgia for 4-H events,” says Willoughby. A member of the National 4-H Congress Design Team, he’s been with 4-H since the age of 7.”So being able to work with her and talk about our experiences has been really rewarding,” Willoughby says. “She talked to us like we were friends, not like a celebrity.”
The demand for meals at Emmanuel Dining Room also underscores the Ministry of Caring’s need for volunteers to help serve the meals and clean up after. The dining room served 161,627 meals last year and has already served 78,820 meals through March for 2019.
Priscilla Rakestraw, Ministry of Caring’s development director and former Republican National Committeewoman for Delaware from 1976-2012, welcomed the 4-H helpers told them it was volunteers like them that keep the ministry going.
“I’m just so thrilled with this. They brought all these people to help serve the poor, no questions asked,” Rakestraw said. “And now those people are talking about coming back to the ministry again.” Over the years, Plaza has been a regular visitor to her home state. She can be spotted at her uncle’s bar and restaurant, Wilmington’s Dead Presidents, around the holidays with family members and old friends.
She also comes back to give back, like she did at the Emmanuel Dining Room on Monday.
In 2012, she held a screening of her film “Safety Not Guaranteed” at The Grand in Wilmington to benefit the Wilmington Drama League, where she got her acting start. She returned in 2017 for a block party fundraiser for the Drama League alongside fellow Wilmington native John Gallagher Jr., a Tony Award-winning actor and musician.
Professionally, Plaza is about to join a press tour for her latest film, a remake of the 1988 cult classic horror film “Child’s Play.” It will be released June 21 and features “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky, the murderous children’s doll.
Also on deck is the third season of her FX series “Legion,” based on the Marvel Comic series and created by Noah Hawley (“Fargo,” “Bones”), although a season premiere date has not yet been announced. It is expected in June and will be the series’ final season.
Last year, Plaza made national headlines when she beat former vice president (and current presidential candidate) Joe Biden in a News Journal reader poll to determine the state’s most famous person, taking 42 percent of the vote. She joked about the poll on late night talk shows, telling Conan O’Brien last year, “I was trolling [Biden] on Twitter, saying, ‘How does this happen? You were vice president.'”
Plaza says she likes Biden and is glad he’s running for president, although she doesn’t yet know who she will be supporting officially in the Democratic primary. Even so, she says she may attend an upcoming Biden fundraiser in Los Angeles. The two have met before. Biden appeared on “Parks and Recreation” with Plaza on the show’s series finale in 2015.
“He was my co-star, so maybe I’ll stop by and keep our long history going,” she cracked. “But I do love him.”
We live in a nation divided politically with rampant anger and unhappiness, she says it’s days like Monday spent volunteering that can really rouse the spirit. “It’s easy to feel defeated and depressed by all of the negative headlines and the trajectory of our country in the last couple of years, but when you come to a place like this, you see there are still people making a difference and care,” she said. “It’s really inspiring.”
IF YOU WANT TO HELP
For information about Delaware 4-H, go to extension.udel.edu/4h or call state program leader Doug Crouse at 831-2509.
To volunteer at the Ministry of Caring’s Emmanuel Dining Room, go to ministryofcaring.org or call the dining room’s program director ReeNee LaFate at 652-3228.
Ryan Cormier, Delaware News JournalPublished 6:00 a.m. ET April 30, 2019 | Updated 7:34 a.m. ET April 30, 2019