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    Thursday, June 08, 2023

    Groton soup kitchen filling a need

    Groton - One month after the local group opened a new soup kitchen to handle the demand for free food, volunteers are serving 80 to 90 people a week.

    The newly-formed organization called "Groton Community Meals" served its first dinner on Sept. 8, and last week fed 89 people, said Phil Butta, chairman of the group's board of directors. The group is made up of volunteers from a half dozen churches and Groton's director of human services."When you talk to people who come in you hear things like, 'We're trying to get back on our feet' and 'I'm still unemployed and looking for work, and all I can find is part-time,'" Butta said. "

    Now, with (the cold) this morning, it's a reminder that people have choices like, food or heat?"Last October, so many people lined up outside Groton Human Services when the United Way Mobile Food Pantry stopped there the first time, a police officer had to direct traffic. The pantry, a refrigerated truck that provides food like fresh fruit, vegetables, chicken and meat, serves about 100 households at the stop at Groton Human Services and has another location in Groton City that's just as busy.

    In April, Rev. Ho-Soon Han, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church and Human Services Director Marge Fondulas, got together in the human service office with about 25 others to talk about how to help.Volunteers quickly organized. Han initially led the effort, now run by a board of directors with Butta as chairman.

    Fondulas serves as a board member and liaison to the human service office. At least eight churches are involved, which spreads the responsibility around so no one group feels overwhelmed, Butta said.The effort has about 45 volunteers representing eight different churches and those representing no church, said Phul Butta's wife Chris who helps coordinate the volunteers.The ultimate goal is to provide a free meal every night of the week somewhere in the area, Phil Butta said. He'd also like to use Fitch Middle School as a location.Debra Post, who enjoyed the meal Monday with her children and grandchildren, said it helps financially and socially.

    Post, 52, is living in a four-bedroom house with nine family members. She has guardianship of two grandchildren and also watches her daughter's three children while she works at Foxwoods Resort Casino."I constantly have children around me, and they're so friendly here," Post said. "It's really nice and I just like coming here and socializing." Money can get tight at the end of the month so it also helps with that, she said.Don Fauver, treasurer of Faith Lutheran and of Groton Community Meals, said the program is about food and friendship. Many will stay until 6:30 p.m. socializing and drinking coffee, he said. "Then there's a mass exodus," he said. "But we also have people who will stay and help us clean up."Noank Baptist Church and Christ United Methodist helped with startup money for the project and Groton Human Services collected donations.

    Faith Lutheran provided the location for serving the meals, and St. John's Christian Church offered to host them one Monday a month.Union Baptist Church became the fiscal sponsor, keeping track of donations and spending. Volunteers from Ledyard Congregational Church, Poquonnock Bridge Baptist Church and Pleasant Valley Community of Prayer and Praise stepped in.Businesses got involved. Panera Bread and BJ's Wholesale Club offered donations and McDonald's provided ice for drinks.

    Rob Lawrence, a member of Ledyard Congregational Church and a former cook in the Navy, cooks. "He's been very confident all along that we can do this," Butta said. "... He was like, 'Stay calm.'"Irving Hiller, of Poquonnock Bridge Baptist Church, volunteers two evenings a month serving dinner."People are so grateful," he said. "Every person will say 'thank you'. I often wonder how they survive the rest of the week."

    d.straszheim@theday.comTwitter: @DStraszheim

    Free meals in Groton

    Groton Community Meals are held 5-6:30 p.m. on the first, second, third and fifth Monday of every month at Faith Lutheran Church, 625 Poquonnock Road, Groton, and on the fourth Monday at St. John 's Christian Church at 346 Shennecossett Road, Groton.

    All meals are free and all are welcome.Pleasant Valley Community of Prayer & Praise offers free meals from 5-6:30 p.m. every Thursday at the church at 20 Grove Avenue, Groton.

    Free community breakfasts are held from 9-10:30 a.m. on the following dates at Christ United Methodist Church, 200 Hazelnut Hill Road, Groton: Nov. 15, Dec. 13, Jan. 17, Feb. 14, March 14, April 11, May 16, June 13, July 11 and Aug. 15.or more information, call Rev. Ho-Soon Han, (860) 204-2558; to volunteer, call Tammy Brannan, (860) 857-2479.

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