Groton Community Meals to offer second meal site
Groton — Every week, Groton Community Meals serves an average of 130 to 140 hot meals during its Monday night dinner at the Groton Senior Center. One recent night it dished out more than 200.
Building on the program's success and a need for a second meal site, the soup kitchen will now offer meals one night a week at West Side STEM Magnet Middle School in the City of Groton.
Starting this week, the free dinners will be served at the middle school every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., in addition to the Monday dinners from 6 to 7 p.m. at the senior center.
"It's open to everybody, even if you're not from town," said chef Rob Lawrence, who oversees the preparation of the two weekly meals.
The intention is to fill a need in providing a second hot meal for those who attend the Monday meals while drawing in those who live in the area around the middle school, said David Schulz, vice president of the Groton Community Meals board.
Groton Human Services Director Marge Fondulas, an ex-officio board member, said the organization, which began in 2014, also hopes the earlier time and middle school location will bring in more young families.
Overall, the food insecurity rate for New London County is 11.2 percent, while the child food insecurity rate is 16.1 percent, according to Jill Davoll, marketing and communications director with the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut.
Pieces fitting together
Schulz said an additional site has long been a goal for the organization, but finding the space had been the largest limiting factor.
Fondulas said the West Side site was of particular interest because it's located in an area of the City of Groton where there are apartment complexes and rent-subsidized apartments and some people are on fixed incomes.
She said Groton Community Meals reached out to Groton Public Schools Food Services Director Ernie Koschmieder, an advocate of feeding programs in the community, with the idea. The school district's facilities manager and superintendent also were on board.
Superintendent Michael Graner said once the details were worked through, including ensuring health certification, the school district was happy to share the facility at no cost. Groton Community Meals personnel will be responsible for preparing the food and cleaning up afterwards.
"It'll be a nice asset for the community," Graner said.
Fondulas said Groton Community Meals relies on donations and grants. It receives most of the food for the meals from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank. Donations for Groton Community Meals and the Groton Food Locker are often shared between the entities, which serve many of the same people.
Groton Community Meals received a grant from the Mystic Rotary Club for the new kitchen equipment the organization needed for the new site, as well as a grant from the Chelsea Groton Foundation that will cover the first three months of food and supplies, Schulz said.
In addition to cooperation from the town and Groton school district, Schulz said the second meal site was made possible through the help of volunteers and continued donations from the Gemma E. Moran food bank, and from local businesses such as KFC, Big Y, BJ's, Stop & Shop, and Panera Bread.
"All the pieces have fit together very nicely right from the start," Fondulas said. "We've had the cooperation of the community."
"Nourishment and fellowship"
Schulz said he hopes the second site will be met with an enthusiastic response. He also hopes people will look forward to it as a neighborhood event that connects the community.
He said the soup kitchen's motto is that it provides nourishment and fellowship.
"People look forward to seeing people they know here, and families might be sitting together with other young families," Schulz said.
Chef Lawrence, who was a cook in the Navy, makes the meals every Monday, with assistance from Belinda Murano, Doug Mansfield and others. Lawrence also will make meals for the Wednesday night dinners. He said the organization is looking for an apprentice to the chef.
Groton Community Meals is seeking another restaurant to donate food and more volunteers to join the 50 it has now.
"We have a lot of really wonderful volunteers," Lawrence said.
More information is available at www.grotonmeals.org.