Published March 23. 2014 4:00AM
The inviting aroma of fresh-brewed coffee mingles with the sounds of laughter and conversation when each church in the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries network hosts a community meal. Eight churches in Old Saybrook, Clinton, Essex, Deep River, Chester and Old Lyme once a week host meal sites that, in their own words, offer "food and fellowship" to friends and neighbors.
The network began 25 years ago, built on the belief that communities should be responsible to take care of their own. Now, it offers at least one free hot meal a day; two on Wednesdays. We commend the legions of volunteers who serve neighbors and community in this manner and urge other community leaders throughout southeastern Connecticut to learn from and build upon the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries success.
In fact, Shoreline's model of neighbors helping neighbors is among those being considered in Groton, where, despite great need, there is no regular soup kitchen. With an eye to changing this, Human Services Director Marge Fondulas said an organizational meeting soon will be conducted. She hopes a meal site will be regularly serving free, hot meals in town within a year to 18 months. Ideally, the site or sites will be an easy walking distance from neighborhoods where concentrations of lower income residents live.
The Rev. Ho-Soon Han, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Groton, along with a cadre of parish volunteers, got things cooking in Groton with a free community breakfast March 15. They hope the breakfast becomes a monthly event and that the effort grows from there.
The Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center also is working to offer more free hot meals to residents in that community. Executive Director Vicki Anderson said the center is working out details with the Pawcatuck Lions to begin offering a free community breakfast at the end of each month, a time when too many find their bank accounts and wallets empty at the same time as rent payments are coming due.
These are all commendable efforts. Still, so much more is needed. The Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center food pantry provides food to more than 2,000 annually. At some times of the year, the demand becomes even more pressing. In November 2013, for example, the PNC provided 500 holiday meal boxes that included turkeys, fresh vegetables and fruits.
In Groton, Fondulas said 100 households get food each month when the United Way Mobile Food Pantry stops at the Groton Human Services office. Just as many queue for food when the mobile pantry makes a once-a-month stop in the City of Groton.
In Norwich, the food pantry at St. Vincent DePaul Place each month provides groceries for 900 individuals, many of them children. The Shoreline group operates food pantries in Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, East Lyme, Westbrook and Clinton. At all the sites, there is regular demand for the three-day supply of groceries and frozen "heat and eat" meals distributed each week.
This great need is evidence of fundamental problems with our economy. Many of the people who seek help in getting enough food for themesleves and their families are working people. Unfortunately, their salaries are not enough to pay for a home, heat it, pay all the bills and eat. Fixing these structural problems in our economy is a complex undertaking. Those in need cannot wait.
When the pastor and parishioners of the First Baptist Church in Essex in 1989 began what would grow into the Shoreline Soup Kitchens meal sites, they faced criticism and challenges. Some residents contended poverty did not exist in their quaint Connecticut River communities. Others feared meal sites would attract more indigent people to their towns. The parishioners just kept cooking and serving meals, however. Their neighbors in need kept arriving to eat in a welcoming atmosphere of respect.
We applaud the current efforts of neighbors to feed their neighbors in Groton and Pawcatuck and urge local leaders to cooperate in helping make community meal sites possible and successful throughout the region.