Loaves and Fishes to expand service in new building
NEW MILFORD — For years, the Loaves and Fishes Hospitality House provided not just meals to no-and-low income community members, but access to nurses, literacy training and other programs meant to empower them.
But time and space constraints in its location at the town-owned Richmond Citizen Center meant these services fell to the wayside.
Now, the organization hopes to again go beyond simply serving meals in a new building on Bridge Street. Construction is expected to begin in about a month on the new center, which will include showers and laundry facilities, as well as rooms for counseling.
There are few areas in town that provide this, said Lisa Martin, chief operating officer for Loaves and Fishes.
“It’s difficult for them to find some place to be human, to have human decency,” she said. “It will help them move beyond their current experience. It's hard to get a job interview if you haven't had a shower or clean clothes.”
The facility will be called the Danny Straub Community Outreach Center, named after a late resident who owned the property the building will sit on.
“It was conceived to be a place that showed people that their neighbors cared for them and cared about them,” said the Rev. Jack Gilpin, chairman of the Board of Directors for Loaves and Fishes and the rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The organization will also have rooms to bring in social service agencies, so guests do not need to travel to Danbury for these services, Martin said.
But Loaves and Fishes will continue to serve two meals a day — one hot meal and one bag lunch — to the homeless, unemployed and others in need. On average, 25 people come each day, with numbers being higher at the end of the month when people are low on money, Martin said.
“People who are on the downside of the economy get marginalized psychologically and spiritually in so many ways,” Gilpin said. “This is a way of telling these people that they do matter. We are all humans in the same boat. It doesn't matter who are you what you do, where you’re from, we care about you and value you just for being you.”
One of the services Loaves and Fishes hopes to revive is the “Give Back” program, where clients complete maintenance and other work around the facility.
“It’s a privilege to be able to give back,” Martin said. “People who have never been able to do that don’t get the sense of self-worth, self-esteem that giving back can give you.”
When Loaves and Fishes previously ran the Give Back program, she said it had a significant effect on the clients. She said one group of seven spent three nights painting the dining room and became fast friends who looked out for each other. By the end of that month, five of the seven had jobs and three had found housing.
“All of a sudden, they felt valuable,” Martin said. “That’s what makes a difference, not handing out a meal.”
Since the 3,826-square-foot, two-story building was approved in the summer of 2015, supporters have raised $460,000 for the project. The first phase, which includes only the kitchen was originally estimated to cost $750,000, while the full building was estimated at $1.2 million, but the nonprofit is working to get more accurate numbers, Martin said.
Gilpin said Loaves and Fishes raised money at events like Village Fair Days and poetry readings at St. John’s, as well as the annual Give Local campaign, which benefits area organizations. Several grants, including from the Diebold Foundation also helped.
Martin said she was grateful for the people who have been donating to the project for years.
“I want people to know we’re not giving up on this dream,” she said. “It’s just taking a little longer than we thought.”
Three New Milford residents, Sherri McAuliffe, Alma Roberson and Biddy Roger, founded Loaves and Fishes in 1984 and began serving meals out of St. John’s, before moving into the Richmond Citizen Center in 1990. But a few years ago, the town asked the soup kitchen to find another location because New Milford needed the space.
This kicked off a contentious approval process for the nonprofit to build a facility on Bridge Street.
But Gilpin said the physical building will establish to the organization’s patrons that they are not forgotten.
“It’s a testament to these people, that they are cared for and that they are valued and that we are a community that ... is always going to be there for them,” he said.