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Groton dinner program served nearly 3,700 meals during pandemic

Groton — A program started in Groton during the pandemic fed people close to 3,700 meals, after the community contributed more than $11,000, its organizers said.

Groton Senior Center program supervisor Kathy Williams said the town wanted to help the Groton community, as people lost their jobs or were furloughed, and small businesses had to close for a period of time.

“We wanted to make sure they did have food and sustenance while they were going through a hardship,” she said.

The Groton Senior Center, Parks and Recreation Department and town police collaborated on the Community First Dinner Program, along with help from community organizations, businesses and community members, Williams said.

The program started in early June with twice-a-week distribution of dinners at TVCCA, St. John’s Christian Church and Charles Barnum School. After a few weeks, one site was changed from Charles Barnum to Beacon Point to provide easier access for cars, Williams said. The program then went to one meal a week for the last five weeks to stretch the available money.

Groton Senior Center food service worker Lynn Manza, whose saying is “everyone has to eat," headed up the meal preparation and was “the driving force” behind the program, along with her daughter Jennifer Meakem, office assistant at the senior center, said Williams, who helped obtain sponsorships.

About 25 volunteers assisted over the 13 weeks of the free dinner program, which ended in late August, Meakem said.

As a mom, Meakem said she understands how stressful these times are, and it’s heartwarming to know that the program provided meals to people and to see how appreciative and grateful those people were.

Though the meal distribution has ended, Meakem and Williams said they are looking into continuing the efforts, such as through a potential once-a-month food box distribution during the colder weather months of October, November, December and January, and are looking for sponsors. People interested in donating can contact Williams or Meakem at the senior center.

Last week, the Groton Senior Center also partnered with organizations, including OIC, Keeping Kids Out of Prison, or KOP, and Formerly Inc., to distribute food boxes, Williams said. Overall, 1,540 boxes were distributed in New London County, including 65 in Groton, she said.

“We are hoping to partner in the future to distribute more to our communities,” she added.

Williams said that the community saw a need and came together and she hopes there will be more collaborations, particularly as the months get cooler.

She said she also wants people to know that the staff is available to help. “We want people to know that we’re here for any needs,” she said. “We might not have all the answers but between the staff that we have, we will definitely research to find out what we can do to help.”

While the Community First Dinner Program has ended, meal distribution is still available in Groton, including through Groton Community Meals. That program plans to continue to offer, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, free hot meals from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays at Faith Lutheran Church on Poquonnock Road, said Marge Fondulas, director of Groton Human Services and an ex-officio member of the community meals board. The meals, which are open to all, are served “to-go” in a drive-thru set-up in the church parking lot.

For Groton residents, the Groton Food Locker is available for households in need of nonperishable, emergency food, she said. Food distributions are based on household size and may be requested as often as every two weeks during the pandemic. Residents can schedule appointments to pick up food in the parking lot of the Human Services building, and should call the department at (860) 441-6760 to speak with a social worker.

Meakem said the organizers appreciate the community because not only did businesses sponsor the program, community members who wanted to give back also donated to the program.

“We definitely couldn’t have done it without all of them, as well,” she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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