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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Latest Montville food bank distribution event feeds 222 families

    Volunteer Janet Lynch, of Montville, hands bags of pears to Coast Guard Academy cadets, volunteering for the day, Saturday, April 13, 2024, while they box up food to distribute during the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. Lynch has been a volunteer for 26 years. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Volunteer Babara Ignatiuk, of Bridgeport, works along one of the lines of cars Saturday, April 13, 2024, getting information as to how many families the person is picking up for during the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. Ignatiuk said she has volunteered on and off for 3 years. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Volunteers Carol Chapman, left, of Norwich, and Debbie Church, of Montville, carry bags of food to a vehicle Saturday, April 13, 2024, during the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. Chapman has been a volunteer since 2016 and Church started one year ago after she retired. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Chair Person Mary Mowan, hands food and drinks to a fellow volunteer, right, Saturday, April 13, 2024, while she and Heather Bradman, left, both of Montville, prepare boxes of food to distribute during the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. In the background Mowan’s father, Thomas Jacobs, one of the founders of the food bank and they both have been involved food bank for over 30 years, (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    After checking in and giving the number of families a vehicle is picking up for Saturday, April 13, 2024, five vehicles at a time are sent over from a parking lot on the other side of the church to drive through the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Volunteer Alan Chapman, left, of Norwich, helps carry bags of food from the basement of the church Saturday, April 13, 2024, during the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Volunteers place boxes and bags of food in a vehicle Saturday, April 13, 2024, during the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Montville ― Hundreds of cars filed through the parking lot of Montville Union Baptist Church Saturday morning, the queue stretching out along Route 163 and up Bridge Street as occupants waited for a trunkload of groceries packed with care by faithful volunteers.

    Halfway through the two-hour distribution event held on the second and fourth weekend of every month by the Montville Union Baptist Church Food Bank, the produce-packing crew in the basement ran out of potatoes. The last spud had been placed in a cardboard box alongside items like organic milk, fruit, vegetables, yogurt and hummus.

    Volunteer Jeff Roderick of Montville was both practical and philosophical about the situation.

    “We have no potatoes? Let’s give them apples,” he cried out for anyone who was listening. It was the enthusiasm typical of the man who for more than 15 years decorated a Christmas tree at the Interstate 395 southbound on-ramp as an act of anonymous holiday cheer.

    Food Bank Chairwoman Mary Mowan, surrounded by enough citrus fruit to keep an 18th-century sailing vessel free of scurvy, nodded toward a crate.

    “And more oranges!” she added.

    The food bank on Saturday provided food for 222 families. It’s a sharp change from the roughly 80 families who filed through the basement to pick up their groceries before COVID-19 hit.

    Mowan said numbers, which had come down from about 300 families at the height of the pandemic, are starting to climb again.

    Mowan’s blue T-shirt identified her as “chaos coordinator.” She threw packages of chopped lettuce and cabbage – not to be confused with each other – into boxes as a dozen volunteers milled around the room. Volunteers young and old stuffed boxes; Coast Guard Academy cadets carried the food up the cellar stairs; and others broke down the cardboard for recycling.

    The bounty, different each time, is dependent on what’s available at the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London when Mowan stocks up. On Tuesday, Mowan coordinated the transport of 10 pallets of food in three different vehicles from the center to the church basement.

    “It’s never the same stuff, so we don’t know what we’re going to have until we get down here,” she said.

    The food bank unloaded about 17,000 pounds of food during its last Saturday distribution.

    Items are also delivered from Connecticut Foodshare, a Wallingford-based nonprofit that allows Mowan to order online. She gets cereal boxes from ALDI in Waterford because that’s where she finds the best prices.

    Roderick emphasized nothing is wasted. He said he delivers rotten fruit and vegetables to a pig farm in Waterford, where the owner has accepted half a ton of produce in the past four months.

    No judgment

    Mowan has been at it so long she can’t remember when the church food bank started. It took multiple volunteers, many of whom had been there for a quarter century, to narrow the date of origin to roughly 30 years ago.

    Back then, the food bank was a single closet on the main floor of the church filled with nonperishables. There was no fridge or freezer back then; now they have six.

    Thomas Jacobs, Mowan’s father, was one of the food bank originators. He said he learned early on that volunteers are there to serve without question.

    Jacobs recalled the period of time during which he carried out bags of food to two elderly women who arrived each time in a Cadillac.

    “I kept asking myself, ‘What are they doing here? They don’t need this,’” he said. But then he found out the car was one of the only things they had left.

    “That gave me a jolt that it was not for me to do the judging,” he said. “Let God do the judging, and we would do the loving. And I’ve tried to live by that.”

    In the larger parking area next to the church, volunteers registered arrivals and directed traffic into three lanes to be funneled single-file to the distribution site on the other side of the church as space permitted. Colored tags ― green for a single family, yellow for two and blue for three or more ― were affixed to each window so it would be evident how many boxes and bags should be placed in each trunk.

    On the distribution side, Carol Chapman of Norwich and Debbie Church of Montville handed out bags filled with nonperishables like cereal, canned vegetables, pasta and rice.

    Roderick described the two retired women as “the muscles” of the operation. He said they volunteer during the week to unload massive amounts of groceries when there aren’t many volunteers able to help.

    Chapman nodded as she walked off with two bags to deposit in the trunk of a waiting car.

    “Plus, I had my feet run over once,” she said. “It didn’t kill me, though.”

    Mowan said there’s a particular need for more volunteers who can unload and carry items down the stairs each Tuesday and Friday before the food distribution.

    Bridgeport resident Barbara Ignatiuk started volunteering at the food bank about two years ago with her friend Erin Blanchette of Montville to help register families for the drive-through pickups. She said the opportunity to focus on helping others is like therapy for her.

    “I’m smiling for three hours,” she said. But that doesn’t mean everyone she welcomes with her clipboard and colored tags is in the same frame of mind.

    “Some people are sad, some people are happy. You find them in all kind of places,” she said. “If they’re happy, they smile back. If they’re not happy, you put the smile on their face.”

    e.regan@theday.com

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