Loaves & Fishes, town search for answers

A moment of peace has come for the staff and volunteers at Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House in New Milford.

Tension felt for months by Loaves & Fishes President Lisa Martin and the soup kitchen's board has apparently subsided.

Relations for the hospitality house volunteers have improved in their interactions with other tenants in the town-owned building and with town officials, Martin said Monday.

The sense of relief arrived last week when Mayor Pat Murphy called a meeting of all entities in the Richmond Citizen Center to come to an understanding on how best to use limited space.

"The meeting couldn't have been better," Martin said. "The mayor and Public Works representatives were very kind and understanding. They're bending over backwards to help us."

"Carolyn Haglund (director of senior services) was there and she couldn't have been nicer," Martin added.

Martin and her board said they have felt pressured with Murphy's suggestion to move the soup kitchen to the Faith Church property along Route 7 South near the Brookfield town line.

Murphy had offered to have the town provide bus passes for patrons of Loaves & Fishes to access the new location. Martin felt that would be cost prohibitive for the town in the long run.

"There's been friction for quite some time," Murphy said. "It's hard to mix the customers that both serve. I have seniors who want a new senior center because they don't want to be around those who come to the soup kitchen."

Murphy held last week's meeting after an angry email exchange had reached her desk. She said she was sure there had been a misunderstanding among those involved.

A series of complaints by others in the building had culminated when the Richmond Citizen Center was evacuated March 28. It was believed there had been a propane leak in the Loaves & Fishes kitchen.

The "gas leak" smell proved to be sewer gas coming up through an unflushed kitchen floor drain, Martin said.

Then word came more storage space was being taken from Loaves & Fishes than had been offered by Martin in a January meeting, she said.

Alan Russo, the town's facilities maintenance manager, said he was "trying, as requested, to create space in a building which, like our other town buildings, doesn't have enough space."

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322