'Soup kitchen' could run out of operating funds by the end of the year
New London — For 30 years, the New London Community Meal Center on Montauk Avenue has provided meals to those who needed them — no questions asked.
That may soon come to an end, however, as officers of the nonprofit agency say it is running out of money and has only enough funds to run for another two months.
John Kamishlian, board president, said money coming into the New London Community Meal Center has been on a sharp decline in recent years.
The majority of its funding comes from grants and private donations.
The organization also receives some money from the New London Community Development Block Grant.
"Everyone is competing for the same funding sources, and those are getting smaller and smaller," Kamishlian said. "A lot of grants out there are specifically directed to helping the homeless or to fund educational programs. But we don't just serve the homeless, and we don't run educational programs."
Dorothea Shanahan, board treasurer, said the organization has $26,000 left in funding and is expected to receive another $4,500 from the block grant later this month.
She said operating costs average about $15,000 a month, and the agency is taking in only about half of that.
From August 2014 through July this year, the soup kitchen took in $165,304.73. Its total operating expenses were $186,708.65, leaving it in a deficit at the start of the new fiscal year in July.
The facility pays between $3,000 and $4,000 monthly for electricity, and insurance costs have risen.
Linda Berard, vice president, said the agency has been fiscally responsible, but the demand for its services has been on the rise.
The organization has only two paid employees, a kitchen manager and a security guard.
There are 350 core volunteers who help serve on average 8,000 meals a month. Lunch is provided five days a week and dinner is served six days a week.
On Wednesday the soup kitchen served 161 meals each at lunch and dinner. Because Thursday was the first of month, when people receive government aid, Kamishlian said fewer people came to get food.
Even then, 106 meals were served at lunch and 130 meals at dinner, he said.
"Food insecurity is a real issue," Berard said. "We have people who have to choose whether they pay the rent or eat. We have families with children who come in for a meal."
Shanahan said people assume that those who get the free meals don't work or are homeless and that the soup kitchen is enabling them. The reality, she said, is that there is a real need, and it's not going away.
"I can't imagine anyone walking through the doors who doesn't need it," Shanahan said.
Kamishlian added that the meal center serves not only the homeless, but it also feeds the disabled, veterans, elderly and underemployed.
He said if the soup kitchen is forced to close its doors, it would undoubtedly affect other organizations like the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, whose many clients come to the soup kitchen for a meal.
Cathy Zall, the executive director of the hospitality center, said the closure of the soup kitchen would have "a very serious impact" on the clients the center serves.
The center doesn't have facilities to serve meals but has a bus that transports about 50 people per meal each day to the soup kitchen.
"We try not to duplicate services," Zall said. "If they closed, it would create major issues."
The soup kitchen does get the bulk of its food from the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, but it still has to buy food items each week to adequately serve the people each day.
Not only does the center desperately need money, Kamishlian said, but its food pantry is also getting bare.
He said donations of ice tea mix, coffee, paper towels, broths, parmesan cheese and other nonperishable items would save them from spending money they don't have at this time.
At least three grants the organization had been getting did not come through this year. Shanahan said the soup kitchen doesn't have a paid director or grant writer.
Since its inception in 1985, the agency has run on the generosity of others and on the spirit of volunteerism.
On Monday Kamishlian said the board members are going to meet at the soup kitchen and stuff envelopes, starting a mailing campaign to seek donations. They paid for the 400 letters and stamps out of their own pockets.
"We are supporting members in the community who need help," he said. "If we can't do it any longer, then who will?
To make a donation, checks may be mailed to The New London Community Meal Center, P.O. Box 945, New London, CT 06320 or go to http://nlcommunitymealcenter.org/donate-store.html and hit the donate tab to make a credit card donation.
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