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