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Lowe's donates new ceiling, paint to New London Community Meal Center

The New London Community Meal Center is changing its name and look — with a little help from Lowe's.

Employees from the home improvement store on Saturday spent time redoing the center’s ceiling tiles and painting the walls with a pop of color — all for free.

The center at 12 Montauk Ave., New London, soon will have a new style and a new name — Dine — that stands for four of its core values: Diversity, Integration, Nutrition and Excellence.

With colorful green, yellow and orange accent walls and some other aesthetic updates, the folks who pump out 60,000 to 70,000 meals a year at the center hope to make it feel more like a restaurant than a typical “soup kitchen.”

“We want to eliminate any stigma of coming here — when you talk to people in New London, everyone calls this place a 'soup kitchen.' We’re trying to make it a little more upscale, more of a meal center, a family friendly place that is welcoming for everyone,” said board member Bob Casey.

Each year, the local Lowe's store — at 167 Parkway North in Waterford — chooses a different community organization to help pro bono with a little remodeling or repairs, assistant manager Jonathon Cristofaro said. This year, the store dedicated a day to helping out the nonprofit that feeds so many in greater New London each year.

“Every year Lowe's does what we call ‘The Heroes Project’ where we pick a place that helps out community and help them however we can,” he said. When Lowe's employees scoped out the space at the meal center, they noticed how many of its more than 300 ceiling tiles were starting to bow and stain from water leaks. So they brought in all new ones.

After repairing the ceiling, the team planned to paint the walls to brighten things up a bit. All the paint, tiles and supplies they used were donated by Lowe's.

Lavondia Carter, who works in the garden center at Lowe's, said that being born and raised in New London, he knows a lot of people who come to the meal center for help. And he hopes this project, which will add green and yellow accents for New London pride, improves the space for them.

“I want people to be able to come here and have it feel more homey,” Carter said. “They should be able to feel at ease here.”

Cristofaro said he’s happy his store was able to help a place that serves the community. “It feels awesome to give back, they’re giving back to people, so we’re giving back to them,” he said.

Casey said he and his fellow board members think a makeover will help people of all walks of life feel comfortable coming in for a meal, since anyone and everyone is welcome, no matter their employment or economic status.

“Our policy is that anyone who walks through this door gets fed," Casey said. "Many of the people who may not be homeless or destitute, they can pay their rent, but they can’t afford food.”

Fellow board member Brian Enright said there are many people who come to the center after work for a hot meal.

“There are a lot of working poor — people who are OK three weeks out of the month but it's that fourth week that hits them. It’s that element of society that kind of gets lost,” he said. “We fill that fourth-week gap.”

Next, the center hopes to add its new "Dine" logo to one of the freshly painted walls, and is looking for volunteer artists or painters to help make that happen.

t.hartz@theday.com

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