New London community meal to provide meals in Puerto Rico

New London – A community meal program that has established itself as a cherished Wednesday tradition for many area residents takes on greater meaning this week.

All proceeds from this week's Brigaid Community Meal will benefit a grass-roots organization called La Olla Común, or The Community Pot, which has been providing meals to residents of Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20. About 70 percent of the island is still without power and water.

Daisy Torres, the New London School district’s director of bilingual, English for speakers of other languages, world language and parent engagement, said the district was looking for ways to support the relief effort and help connect New London’s Puerto Rican community with family and friends living on the island.

The New London school district has already welcomed 18 Puerto Rican evacuees and expects as many as 30, most coming to stay with family and friends in New London. Torres herself has family in Puerto Rico and said despite the widespread devastation the people there are “plugging along,” but could use help.

“We want to celebrate that. The spirit of the people is amazing,” she said.

The idea of a community meal to benefit the Puerto Rico relief effort came from school board member Mirna Martinez during one of several planning meetings among community organizations. State Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, asked a colleague traveling to Puerto Rico to find a group worthy of supporting.

La Olla Común is a Río Piedras-based initiative that prepares up to 170 daily meals for locals, according to Puerto Rico's The Indypendent. It operates under an egalitarian system, with those receiving meals asked to either work, donate food or money towards the program.

“They don’t have a fancy website. They’re not doing it for recognition,” Soto said of the group. “The way they work is you can pay for the meal with a donation of time, money or food. Their goal is not so much to feed people but create an ecosystem where people are helping others.”

There are parallels between The Community Pot and the community meal program, where some people show up in part out of a sense of community, paying for a $5 meal and at times donating a ticket for others who might not have the money.

The weekly meal program was the brainchild of Brigaid, the organization that instituted a chefs in schools program in the New London school district in 2016 and has won high praise for not only preparing healthy meals for the students but leaving its mark on the community in other ways.

As one example, Brigaid founder Daniel Guisti welcomed world-renowned chefs Rene Redzepi and Jacques Pepin at a fundraiser at Stonington’s Stone Acres Farms earlier this year to help raise $110,000 toward the New London Education Foundation's Last Dollar Scholarship program. Guisti is donating the food for Wednesday’s benefit.

Brigaid has also partnered with local food pantries to give out free meal vouchers and has delivered leftover food to the local soup kitchen.

The Brigaid Community Meal to benefit Puerto Rico takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. While meals are just $5, additional donations to feed hurricane victims are appreciated.

Wednesday’s meal will be roast pork, rice with pigeon peas, buttered carrots, flan and tropical juice. There will be music and raffles.

g.smith@theday.com 

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