Free “shopping spree” helps local non-profits provide more for their clients
New London ― On Monday morning, representatives from 24 local non-profits, religious organizations and schools lined up outside the Gemma E. Moran United Way Center warehouse ready for the clock to strike 11 a.m.
Once it did, two representatives from each group started to open boxes and see what they could bring back to their marked sections.
Anyone walking past could have assumed this was a competitive shopping spree, but United Way Volunteer Coordinator Lamar Spruill called it a “free flea market.”
Since June 2021, the United Way center in New London, known best for its food pantry, has held non-food giveaways outside of its warehouse for local non-profit community partners in the county.
Alicia McAvay, the executive director of FRESH New London, said the non-food giveaway “allows us to save on our budget and allows us to have access to items that we otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s never just food that families need.”
Dina Sears-Graves, the center’s chief executive officer, said the items in the giveaways are donations from local retail stores and the region’s two casinos. She said the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the Gemma E. Moran center allowed organizations to get non-food items, moving the effort outside and expanding its reach to more groups.
Sears-Graves said the giveaways are a great opportunity to serve clients who are in need of items the non-profits would need to buy elsewhere.
The organizations have “direct access to clients,” she said.
Among the organizations on hand Monday were Safe Futures, Higher Edge, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, the New London Public School District.
Spruill said this was the center’s biggest giveaway yet with 72 pallets and more boxes than usual. He said it usually takes 45 minutes before everything is gone but on Monday the participants had more time to look through the boxes.
“We’re the only organization to give out non-food items like this,” Spruill said.
Dr. Patricia Sebastian, the director of community meals at Church of the City, said its members provide a free balanced meal to about 200 people once every week and help people with a food pantry twice a week. With the donations from the non-food giveaways, she said the church can give out items during its food programs.
“Especially with the holidays approaching, people want food but to have more than food for them is a real gift,” Sebastian said.
On the lookout for baby items, Whalers Helping Whalers is another organization that works to feed families and individuals in need. Vice-President Cameron Lewis said the organization is making 1,000 meals every Saturday for families to eat and take home with them.
Lewis said the baby items will go to help young parents and the toys will be used for its Christmas gift distribution program.
Brian Rolfe, the director of maintenance and facilities at Waterford Country School, said this was his second time coming to the giveaway.
“It’s fun but it gets tiring,” Rolfe said about the experience. “At the end of the day it all goes to a good cause.”
Rolfe said he was searching for art projects and toys for the holidays but he also had laundry detergent and other household supplies. He said the school has a foster care program and some parents could use the help.
McAvay, the executive director of FRESH New London, a food justice organization, said the organization runs a food pantry and puts out giveway items at the pantry. She said the organization also got items for its communal gathering place at its office, making it more comfortable for those in FRESH’s high school student program.