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New London Community Meals improvises after COVID case

New London — For a few frantic hours, Linda Berard worried that a single positive COVID-19 test of an employee at the New London Community Meal Center might have a devastating domino effect.

That positive case led the meal center to make a tough call and turn away the volunteers lined up to cook for the week at the center’s Montauk Avenue kitchen.

Because of the center’s small paid staff, volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization and help to prepare as many as 300 meals per day, including about 120 that are shuttled each day to the New London Homeless Hospitality Center.

“The last thing we wanted to do is shut down,” said Berard. “We’re such a vital resource. We just couldn’t not feed the people.”

After heading off with her husband to BJs to pick up food supplies on Sunday, Berard, who is president of the board of directors of the meal center, called Thomas “Chef Tomm” Johnson.

Johnson leads the nonprofit Whalers Helping Whalers and has assembled a dedicated group that has been preparing meals for those in need since early in the pandemic.

“People had to be fed,” said Johnson, who said he went out and bought his own supplies and gathered Monday morning with a dozen volunteers at the Elks Lodge in New London.

The group prepared 1,000 sandwiches of different varieties and packaged them with chips, fruit and a drink for use by the meal center over the next few days.

The food was done in time for the Monday noon meal service, the first of two services per day during the week. The meal center has been serving take-out meals since the beginning of the pandemic for safety reasons.

Berard said the meal center, with the help of retiring kitchen coordinator Peta Madry, has worked out a plan to cook enough food to keep the center stocked with meals through next week, when further COVID-19 tests are completed among staff and volunteers.

“We’ll make it work,” Berard said.

Cathy Zall, director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, said the service performed by the meal center is critically important.

“I’ve heard they are going to continue to serve. I think it is unbelievable. They deserve so much credit for figuring this out. It’s a remarkable testament to their dedication,” Zall said.

Berard said that barring further positive tests, she expects the meal center to start welcoming volunteers back by next week.


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