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Snow can't stop serving of hearty breakfast at church

New London – Stay home, the governor urged Nutmeggers early this morning. But for some downtown, staying home was not an option.

As the clock approached 7 a.m. today, several dozen people walked – alone or in small groups – from the homeless shelter at St. James Episcopal Church on Federal Street to the Parish Hall of First Congregational Church, where for the past five years a group of volunteers has provided free breakfast to anyone who needs it. In 2010, the church provided about 15,000 breakfasts to people in need.

Deacon Peter Roberts, who runs the New London Breakfasts program, said this morning that it wasn't a question of whether they would offer a breakfast today, but how.

"These people are hungry," he said. "Everybody's got to eat."

On Tuesday afternoon, Roberts told his volunteers who drive to the breakfasts to stay home. "We let our commuter volunteers take it easy, and the downtown folks are doing the grunt work," said Roberts, who lives three blocks from First Congregational.

Still, some out-of-town volunteers showed up anyway, some catching a ride on a snowplow to arrive by 5:30 a.m., when cooking and preparations begin. The setup was humble but met its purpose: food was spread out on folding tables, coffee available from an old but reliable urn.

"They're just cooking up a storm and, as you can see, we're not hurting for customers," Roberts said.

Breakfast was hearty: pancakes, sausage, fruit salad, cold and hot cereal, coffee and tea. "It's a pretty good meal, and it's a great price," Roberts jokes."

Soon after the doors opened, they closed again. The parish hall, with its white linoleum floor and stained glass windows, hosts a number of groups daily – from Alcoholics Anonymous to the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra – and serves as a worship space during the winter, "because it costs so much money to heat the big room," Roberts said, referring to the main church building.

As the meal slowed down, patrons started discussing what to do for the day. Some planned to hunker down wherever they could, while others saw it as an opportunity.

"What are you going to do today? Stay at home?" said one man, who declined to give his name. "No, this is free money falling from the sky. Free, white money. All you have to do is work for it."

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