September 8th, 2020
Support Provides Double The Impact: Meals Purchased from Locally-Owned Restaurants Served to Those In Need at New Covenant Center and Thomas Merton Centers
Fairfield, Connecticut – September 7, 2020 – Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, the largest private social service provider in the state of Connecticut, received a grant from Bank of America to create an innovative meal partnership with local restaurants in Stamford and Bridgeport. The meals purchased supported the New Covenant Center and Thomas Merton Center, Catholic Charities’ partner centers that operate two large soup kitchens and food pantries in regions that were hit the hardest by the coronavirus. Not only does this partnership support locally owned Connecticut restaurants, but it put these delicious, locally-produced meals on the plates of those who are in need here throughout Fairfield County.
Before the coronavirus, Catholic Charities served over 1.3 million meals per year across the county through its soup kitchens, food pantries, and senior nutrition programs. Due to the ongoing health crisis, that number significantly increased by 300 percent. Catholic Charities used the grant from Bank of America to purchase food from local restaurants in Stamford and Bridgeport to serve at the soup kitchens at the New Covenant and Thomas Merton Centers. As so many businesses had to close during the state shutdown, supporting local restaurants is critical now more than ever, as capacity remains at 50% for indoor dining, and many restaurants have had to permanently shut their doors.
“As the coronavirus continues to impact our residents, it is extraordinary to witness Catholic Charities provide for our most vulnerable populations and support local businesses at the same time,” said Bill Tommins Southern Connecticut Market President for Bank of America. “At the onset of the coronavirus, Bank of America made a commitment to support vulnerable populations in the communities we serve. We are grateful that we can support organizations like Catholic Charities because they are so dedicated to helping those in need.”
“Working with Bank of America has been a blessing for our staff and guests. The project has allowed our guests to explore different food that they normally would not encounter. They truly enjoy it. Our staff loves engaging with the different restaurant owners and learning about their experiences and how they have been impacted by the pandemic, just as we have,” said Craig Adler, Director of the Thomas Merton Center.
The Stamford and Bridgeport restaurants that the New Covenant Center and Thomas Merton Center purchased food from includes the Parkway Diner, Michael’s Italian Restaurant, Seasons Eats, Sunshine Cuisine, The Original Vazzy’s, and Rohan’s Family Spice Restaurant. Combined, these restaurants helped the food centers provide over 1500 meals to local residents.
Johnny Vazzano, owner of The Original Vazzy’s understands that his customers are now facing financial hardships and is doing his best to help ease that burden by offering discounts and promotions, like The Family Meal Deal. The restaurant feels that being a part of the community and maintaining a spirit of giving is a vital part of what they do. Vazzy’s has always given back to the City of Bridgeport even before the pandemic and have been regular donors to the Thomas Merton Center. Johnny Vazzano and his staff believe that “we are all in this together.”
“This project was not only very beneficial to New Covenant Center, but it was also enlightening. Our staff was able to meet the owners of these wonderful restaurants and hear their stories of how they were impacted by COVID-19. This virus knows no boundaries. It impacted these businesses, our agency and most importantly the guests we serve. The project coordinated by Bank of America helped all of us,” said John Gutman, Executive Director of New Covenant Center.
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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