Loaves & Fishes seeks new home

Group needs community support to continue helping those in need

The Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House in New Milford has a proud history of providing hot meals on a daily basis for those down on their luck.

Loaves & Fishes officials also have admirable goals for the future, including expanded services that would make life better for its dozens of guests.

The big challenge, however, is finding a new home that would allow Loaves & Fishes sufficient space to provide those services to the town's neediest residents.

It will take a good chunk of cash, as well as cooperation from several sources, for Loaves & Fishes to move out of its longtime quarters in the town-owned Richmond Citizen Center on Main Street and into its own building.

The New Milford community has been supportive of Loaves & Fishes over its nearly three decades of existence, and we encourage townspeople to do all they can to help the group continue to help others.

There are two motivating forces behind the planned move from the Richmond Citizen Center.

For Loaves & Fishes, there is the desire to have a much bigger space, which could serve not only as a soup kitchen but as a hospitality house that would provide other services. And the reality is there is a significant ongoing need in New Milford to reach out to the low-income and poverty-stricken individuals who live there.

For the town's part, there is the desire to see Loaves & Fishes move out of the Richmond building, partly because the town needs the space for other uses and partly because there are reportedly complaints from patrons of the Senior Center upstairs from the soup kitchen about the behavior of some of the guests at Loaves & Fishes.

The town has been a good landlord for Loaves & Fishes for nearly 25 years, charging just $1 a year for a lease and picking up the tab for maintenance and utilities.

But there are a number of folks in the government and the business community, including Mayor Pat Murphy, who would like to see Loaves & Fishes move out of the center of town. They view the soup kitchen as a magnet for individuals -- including some homeless people -- whose presence on the streets is considered a detriment to having a successful village center.

The mayor has proposed relocating Loaves & Fishes to Faith Church on Route 7, six miles from the downtown near the Brookfield town line, and Faith Church has said it would be glad to host the soup kitchen.

That suggestion has justifiably been rejected by Loaves & Fishes, for myriad reasons, including the reality that a hospitality house needs to be near its base of clients, which is the center of town.

The good news is that a recent meeting involving the mayor, Loaves & Fishes and other officials cleared the air on some issues, and there is less tension among the interested parties these days.

But Loaves & Fishes is still under pressure to find a new home as quickly as possible, and the organization's president, Lisa Martin, and her colleagues are focusing hard on that quest, which they say will include a capital fundraising campaign.

Martin said this week the group is looking for a one-story building of about 5,000 square feet in a business zone "within walking distance of the downtown."

If Loaves & Fishes can find such a home, it would serve not only as a place for serving meals for the hungry but as a drop-in center for the homeless and a site where a counselor would be available to help people in a variety of ways.

The goal, Martin said, is to "nourish the soul as well as the belly."

We strongly encourage New Milford officials, the business community and townspeople to help Loaves & Fishes achieve that laudable goal.