April 30th, 2020
Stamford – At this time last year, New Covenant Center was serving 175 meals per day. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Stamford’s one and only soup kitchen is now serving 450-700 meals per day. To ensure everyone’s safety during the pandemic, New Covenant Center has implemented a new strategy of bringing food to the hungry. Lunch and dinner are served Monday through Saturday and one meal on Sunday in a “take-out” format. The program now also prepares meals for the clients of several other Stamford non-profits, including homeless shelters Pacific House and Inspirica, Building One Community, ARI Center for Special Needs, and Malta House.
New Covenant Center’s food pantry remains open as well. The food pantry operates three days per week; providing 10 days of groceries to low income families. According to Catholic Charities Executive Director Mike Donoghue, this is all being accomplished with reduced staff and no more than 3 volunteers in the kitchen and pantry at one time for everyone’s safety. “Typically, New Covenant Center relies on the services of over 800 volunteers each year but the vast majority of volunteers have had to cancel due to the pandemic. We will likely need to hire some additional employees to meet the increased demand as current staff are incredibly stretched.”
“The Covid-19 crisis has placed New Covenant Center as the charitable food insecurity leader of the crisis’ response in the Lower Fairfield County area,” states New Covenant Center Executive Director John Gutman. “The Center has been handing out much needed food to the unemployed, the homeless, and local families. This is especially true now that many of our area’s citizens have lost their jobs.”
In addition to adapting program services, New Covenant Center has had to modify their spring benefit which was originally scheduled to be held at Woodway Country Club in Darien. Since large gatherings are not permitted under COVID-19 restrictions, the 16th Annual Celebrity Breakfast is being transformed into a virtual event which will be held on the morning of May 8th. This meaningful event will support the New Covenant Center Virtual Celebrity Breakfast & COVID-19 Response Fund. The now virtual event is being co-chaired by New Covenant Center Advisory Board Members Nils Dahl of Southport and Sarita Hanley of Stamford.
The New Covenant Center virtual event will feature a one hour presentation by the event’s original distinguished keynote guest speakers: Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport and Rabbi Jay TelRav of Temple Sinai in Stamford. The Bishop and Rabbi will discuss how our Judeo-Christian community is dealing with this crisis and other critical topics. Anyone who would like to present a question to be included in the discussion can send them to John Gutman at [email protected].
The mission of New Covenant Center is to provide a nutritious meal to all those who are hungry. This is accomplished from their 8,000 sq. ft. facility located at 174 Richmond Hill in Stamford. The facility includes an efficient and modern kitchen, a welcoming dining area, expanded food storage area and refrigeration, a spacious food pantry area and additional space for other services. Founded 41 years ago, New Covenant Center is an inter-faith project of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, serving the homeless, elderly, disabled, working poor, and children. “As the mission states, ‘No one is turned away. There are no requirements to enter the New Covenant Center doors, except a mutual exchange of respect and dignity.’ These words have never been more true as they are now.” States event co-chair Nils Dahl. “While the number of volunteers helping us on-site have declined due to safety precautions, there has been a huge increase in the number of people and companies donating food and meals to New Convenant Center’s soup kitchen and food pantry to help feed the most vulnerable in our area.”
“New Covenant Center feels a strong need to support all their partners during this crisis, yet available resources remain stretched to the limits,” states Sarita Hanley, event co-chair. “This program is a primary utility for the City of Stamford and remains the largest combined daily soup kitchen and food pantry serving Stamford and the surrounding Lower Fairfield County communities. It is the reason why the event had to go on and donations are so very much needed at this time.”
The live streamed event will take place on the morning of May 8th starting at 8 AM and will re-air throughout the day. Tune in at www.NewCovenantCenter.org/virtual-celebrity-breakfast. If you would like to help support New Covenant Center during this time of extreme need, please consider making an online donation at https://www.newcovenantcenter.org/donate/. Checks can also be mailed to: New Covenant Center, 174 Richmond Hill Ave., Stamford, CT. 06902
Written by Amy Zajac
New Covenant Center is Helped by “Angels” During Times of Crisis
April 8th, 2020
Stamford – Fairfield County has been hit by uncertain and trying times. Need and anxiety in the communities served by Catholic Charities are on the rise due to the COVID-19 virus. However, even in the face of adversity, there has been an increase in kindness, fortitude and generosity. These difficult times have brought out the best in people. In addition to the regular Advisory Board Members and dedicated volunteers, the agency has received countless calls and emails from individuals, restaurants, businesses and corporations asking what they can do to help.
It has been the goal of Catholic Charities to keep all of its programs open and active during the coronavirus pandemic; particularly soup kitchens such as New Covenant Center in Stamford. The clients served by the soup kitchens need assistance now more than ever and the demand for services is increasing exponentially. However, the agency recognizes that it is a priority to protect the health and safety of its employees and volunteers who are operating on the frontlines in unprecedented conditions with each passing day.
“Our staff has been heroic,” states Catholic Charities Executive Director Mike Donoghue. “Everyone is pitching in, sometimes in ways that are outside the normal scope of what we do. We have not had one complaint. This is unchartered territory and everyone is rising to the occasion. I am proud of each and every one of them.”
New Covenant Center remains open daily serving “take-out” lunches and dinners 7 days per week. The program is providing a record 250 meals each day; a 30+% increase in three weeks. They are serving the most vulnerable of populations – the poor, homeless and hungry.
“Not only have we met the increased demand for food at our café, but we have been the clear leader in addressing food insecurity issues in the greater Stamford community.” According to New Covenant Center’s Executive Director John Gutman, the program is providing an additional 100 to 200 meals each day to many local non-profits. “Once we make sure our clients are fed, we provide meals to local homeless shelters including Pacific House and Inspirica, Building One Community, and Always Reaching for Independence (our landlord/partner).” The program even delivered meals to Malta House in Norwalk, which houses pregnant or parenting women ages 18 and over. Gutman notes that he only sees the number of people served by New Covenant Center rising as smaller non-profits continue to close.
Right now, New Covenant Center is open, but only staff and pre-arranged volunteers are allowed to enter the facility. These supporters help assemble the take-out meals. The program’s chefs and volunteers continue to prep all hot and cold meals as almost all previously sponsored lunches and dinners have ceased. For now, they keep meeting the needs of the increased numbers of guests, but the biggest issue the program faces is securing supplies.
In order to help, several local groups and businesses, such as The Brunch Box, are providing pre-made sandwiches for their neighbors in need. The Brunch Box is a food truck that was opened in 2015 in Stamford by Jamie and James Marcella. As the years went on, the business grew into corporate catering which now feeds up to 1,700 people per day. According to James Marcella, “Giving back was always a large part of our business model. We donated to the Pacific House very frequently. As much as our business tries to practice a zero waste policy, there are times that we can have extra food items. Because New Covenant Center accommodates on a large scale, we have been delivering our items to that location.” The Brunch Box has been closed since March 2nd, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Now that we have some extra time on our hands, we like to help out others in need. So, we’ve been shopping weekly for in demand items at NCC and making sandwiches,” states Jamie Marcella. “We are very happy to be involved with New Covenant Center and to help with the fight against hunger.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, New Covenant Center has received three deliveries from The Brunch Box – a hot meal, a truck full of snack items, and pre-made sandwiches. But, this is not the only business that has supported New Covenant Center during the pandemic. Catering companies, businesses, and restaurants (including Lidia Bastianich’s three NYC restaurants) have been providing New Covenant Center with prepared food during this extraordinary time. If the donations are not brought to the Center, then New Covenant Center has some “angels” wiling to seek out the help they need.
Among these amazing volunteers are Lynn Friedberg. “I would describe Lynn Friedberg as incredible,” claimed New Covenant Center Advisory Board Member Laure Aubuchon. “She was a tremendous supporter of the program during our 40th Anniversary. I am not surprised that she has stepped up to help now.” Lynn, a resident of Old Greenwich and a Dame of Malta, is the youngest of nine children who grew up in Southern California. As restaurants were starting to close due to COVID-19, Lynn (along with her son Henry) went to Applausi Osteria Toscana in Old Greenwich and asked if the restaurant could donate any prepared food to feed the hungry at New Covenant Center. The chef and his staff prepped some trays and packed them into Lynn’s car to deliver to Gutman and his staff.
“My parents instilled in me a tremendous sense of giving back. That is why I took Henry with me,” stated Friedberg. The mother and son duo continue to reach out to local restaurants regularly on behalf of New Covenant Center and have been successful in securing at least two more meals for New Covenant Center.
New Covenant Center has many groups committed to assisting them with prepping meals and sandwiches. “The more we get, the more temporarily closed non-profit partners in Stamford and nearby communities, we can help,” states Gutman. “Volunteers must agree to adhere to strict safety protocols. We ask that they wear gloves and masks and maintain social distancing while helping to prep meals.”
Anyone who wants to help should contact Volunteer Coordinator David Lovegreen at [email protected]. For more information on New Covenant Center or how to help during the COVID-19 crisis, visit their website at www.newcovenantcenter.org.
Written by Amy Zajac
Thomas Merton Center Receives Award from SHU
March 30th, 2020
Bridgeport – On Monday, March 30, 2020, The Thomas Merton Center was informed that due to the program’s collaboration with Sacred Heart University’s College of Health Professions, the program had been selected to receive the College of Health Professions 2020 Community Partner Award in recognition of contributions to the college. The organization was nominated for this award by Dr. Lola Halperin from the Occupational Therapy Program, College of Health Professions, Sacred Heart University.
This award is given to an organization which has demonstrated exceptional collaboration to further the educational goals and mission of the college. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sacred Heart University was unable to present the award in person. Instead, the award was presented virtually and the news of this award was shared with the SHU Community.
“We are humbled to receive such an honor from Sacred Heart during such a tumultuous time in all of our lives. ” stated Craig Adler, Director of The Thomas Merton Center. “Our staff truly appreciates the collaboration we have with Sacred Heart University. Now more than ever we see the value of Health Care Professionals in our world and The Thomas Merton Center is proud to be part of the educational process for the students of Sacred Heart University.”
Catholic Charities Resources Stressed As Crisis Grows
March 30th, 2020
BRIDGEPORT—The demand for food resources at Catholic Charities of Fairfield County has increased 50 percent in recent weeks and may double because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to Executive Director Michael Donoghue.
The three soup kitchens that serve the county have seen a significant rise in demand as more people turn to them at a time when other food pantries and cafes have closed, he said. The need is so great that entire families have been showing up and waiting in long lines for meals.
“Just about all of our 30-plus programs are open,” Donoghue said. “This is when our clients really need us. The working poor, the homeless, and the elderly are the ones being hurt the most by this crisis, and our mission has always been to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors in Fairfield County.”
The food services teams of Catholic Charities have been dealing with increasing demand at New Covenant Center in Stamford, Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and Morning Glory Breakfast Program in Danbury.
In Stamford, where there is no other food cafe for eight miles, the staff at New Covenant Center is serving 300 meals a day, up from 200 last year, and the total could pass 400, Donoghue said.
Because food pantries and services in the area have shut down, Catholic Charities is assisting other non-profits that serve the homeless and immigrant community, including Pacific House shelter, he said.
New Covenant Center also runs a food pantry three days a week for low-income residents, who can receive up to 10 days of groceries a month.
“That demand has gone up substantially, and we expect it to rise even more,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-century pandemic, and if there is any time the services of Catholic Charities are needed, it is right now.”
Because of the regulations that require social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, people are not permitted to congregate in the cafeteria, and the Center has been offering takeout for clients.
Similar restrictions are in place at Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport, which previously served breakfast and lunch and is now providing some 250 takeout meals a day, up from 150. Because other soup kitchens in Bridgeport have closed, Catholic Charities is providing assistance to them, along with several shelters.
In Danbury, which is served by the Morning Glory Breakfast Program, Catholic Charities has an outreach team that is working with the city to provide food and blankets for the homeless after the shelter was forced to close and residents were relocated to a nearby gymnasium, Donoghue said.
“In an environment like this, anyone who is homeless certainly needs food, along with those who have lost their jobs and are trying to make ends meet to pay their rent,” Donoghue said.
Catholic Charities also operates a Meals on Wheels program in lower Fairfield County, which provides 275 meals a day to the home-bound elderly. A network of eight drivers delivers prepackaged meals to shut-ins.
“In many cases, our driver is the only person these elderly people will see on a given day,” Donoghue said. “They will go to the door to make sure they are OK and drop off the meal.”
That demand has also increased significantly, he said.
“I can’t say enough about the employees of Catholic Charities who put themselves in harm’s way every single day,” he said. “They are showing up to work every day. I am so proud to be part of this organization, which helps the poor and vulnerable, especially at a time like this.”
The demand on employees is particularly difficult now because many of the 2000 local volunteers who assisted the staff are over 65 years old, retired and in high-risk categories. They have been advised to stay home to avoid contracting COVID-19, he said.
At the same time, Donoghue said, supporters of Catholic Charities are helping out in other ways, and many people have been buying extra groceries and dropping them off at the soup kitchens.
Catholic Charities also runs Room to Grow Preschool in Norwalk, which is temporarily closed due to the Governor’s orders on school closures. However, the teachers and director have been doing food collections at the school once a week and developed a system that lets families drive by and pick up a bag of groceries.
Donoghue said the crisis has also strained services that support immigrants and provide behavioral health counseling, particularly among those suffering depression and anxiety.
“This is the time we need the help and support of the community,” Donoghue said. “We need donations because our costs have gone up as we serve people in need and offer assistance to other non-profits.”
To make a donation or use Amazon Wish List to purchase supplies such as food containers, bottled water and bags for the soup kitchens, go to the website of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, www.ccfairfield.org and click on the link “How you can help us respond to the Covid-19 crisis.”
“Catholic Charities is doing everything we can to step up and step into the void that has been created,” Donoghue said. “We need donations now more than ever to serve the least of our brothers as we’re asked to do in Matthew:25.”
AS SEEN IN FAIRFIELD COUNTY CATHOLIC
Thomas Merton Center Highlighted on Channel 12 News
March 30th, 2020
Recently, the Thomas Merton Center was visited by Frank Reccia of Channel 12 News. Channel 12 News featured The Thomas Merton Center and their efforts to help those in need during the COVID-19 crisis. You can watch the news clip in its entirety here.