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Groton - Volunteers from five congregations packed more than 20,000 meals for local food banks in three hours Saturday at Faith Lutheran Church in Groton.
"That's a lot of food for New London County," said church member Dotti Shultz, of Groton.
Paula Lemieux, a member of Faith Lutheran who runs its after-service brunch, said she showed up at 11:30 a.m. to help pack meals and was amazed at the speed at which it was done.
More than 70 people from Groton, Christ Lutheran Church in Niantic, Christ Lutheran Church in Hebron, Trinity Lutheran Church in Ashaway, R.I., and the Lutheran Church of Madison filled 98 boxes with 226 meals per box before 3 p.m.
The event was originally scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. The five churches, plus Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lebanon, raised $5,000 to buy the food. An anonymous donor gave an additional $500. Fundraising started in January, Pastor Andrew Sorenson said.
This is the first year the Groton church has tried the program "One Night, 20,000 Meals," he said.
Sorenson said Faith Lutheran was looking for a way to help after having to close its F.A.M.I.L.Y. kitchen last July, which served 60 to 70 people dinner on Mondays. The acronym F.A.M.I.L.Y. stood for "Forget about me, I love you."
The kitchen closed after the program's director became ill and the church couldn't find a replacement sufficiently certified to meet health requirements, Sorenson said. But the need continued.
"People are hungry," said Fritz Poppe, president of the congregation at Faith Lutheran. "When we closed the F.A.M.I.L.Y. kitchen, we were emotionally distraught."
Sorenson said he gets calls about once a week from people looking for food, and he refers them to local food banks. He said they sometimes call back saying the food bank is empty.
Sorenson said he doesn't know whether the caller didn't really go, whether the bank limits the visits per person or whether there is another reason. He just knows people keep calling.
Sorenson said church representatives also knock on doors once a month in town to ask how it can help, and the number one request is food.
Saturday's event showed that a little can help a lot, he said.
"For relatively little money, you can really make that multiply," he said.