By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Over the past 11 months, over 16,000 meals were served to those in need thanks to the generosity of 25 volunteer groups.
During a luncheon held last Friday at Nuchie’s, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church recognized over 120 volunteers of all ages who have devoted their time serving others through its Meals for the Needy outreach program.
The oldest soup kitchen in Bristol that began in 1982, Meals for the Needy initially operated one evening per week serving 10 people, but has grown over the years to meet increased needs. Over the past 33 years, volunteers representing local churches, schools, civic groups and businesses have served over 850,000 meals.
For Sara Miller, a youth group leader from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, volunteering has been a rewarding experience, as she has been devoting her time to Meals for the Needy for just over a year.
Whether helping to coordinate volunteers by sending out announcements or preparing food, Miller said volunteering is “an experience that can’t compare to anything else.”
“No matter what you give, there’s nothing too little or too big,” said Miller, adding how she has met new people through volunteering. “It comes from your heart.”
Being a volunteer for Meals for the Needy also has been a rewarding experience for Gillian Piazza, a member of the youth group at St. Stanislaus Church.
A student at Bristol Eastern High School, Piazza has played a number of roles as a volunteer, such as washing dishes, serving food and cleaning up.
“It just makes me happy to help people,” said Piazza, adding how she enjoys seeing the faces of those she is helping. “It’s fun.”
Meals are served four nights per week, Monday through Thursday with the help of volunteers from Bristol and other surrounding communities. Anyone can come and eat for free, with no conditions, and 100 meals are often served per night.
Besides being a food operation, Meals for the Needy is a designated Food Share distribution site, and a clothing bank is available.
“We would not be able to do this without your hard work and dedication,” said Cheryl Yetke, executive director of Meals for the Needy.
This past year, the Emergency Food Pantry helped 1,448 families with 5,792 bags of groceries. In addition, 1,150 coats were distributed with the help of Best Cleaners, and mittens, scarves and hats as well as handmade quilts were given out thanks to the help of volunteers. The ministry also has helped children in need by filling 180 backpacks with school supplies with the help of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and St. Andrews Church.
During the event, several local businesses received recognition, including Walmart (2305). Since its partnership with Walmart began last April, the ministry picked up and distributed 11,306 pounds of frozen meat, along with pounds of produce, salvage food and non-salvage food.
“We’re going to continue with our job to bring in food for the needy,” said Rosa Lopez of Walmart (2305).
Best Cleaners and ShopRite also received recognition.
“Company-wide, we have 11 locations in Connecticut,” said Gary Reynolds of Best Cleaners. “We collected over 16,000 coats for homeless people in Connecticut.”
During the event, Jim Moore, who works in the produce department at ShopRite in Bristol, shared a song he wrote and composed about homelessness called “In Our Own Backyard.”
“I think a big part of this is awareness,” said Moore. “It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to really go out into the woods…and actually see some of the homeless out there—I was completely blown away.”
“It starts from the top—our owner Paul [is] very passionate about people not going hungry,” added Mary Lou Grendziszewski, the community liaison for ShopRite in Bristol and Waterbury. “We’ve help a lot of organizations in Bristol as well as Waterbury.”
With the help of donations and a grant from Foodshare, Yetke said the ministry was able to buy a new freezer and refrigerator. In addition, a grant from the Main Street Community Foundation benefited the purchase of 66 new chairs for the soup kitchen. Looking ahead, Yetke said air conditioning will be installed by the beginning of next month.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO