Ministry matters

Fern Street Food Ministry is making a huge impact on hunger in West Hartford and beyond – We-Ha

The Fern Street Food Ministry held a volunteer appreciation event earlier this month and hopes to continue to attract more volunteers and donations to help in its hunger relief efforts.

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

By Ronni Newton

Those who volunteer for the Fern Street Food Ministry are certainly not doing it for the glory, but their efforts are greatly appreciated and a breakfast was held on June 4 to recognize the significant contributions that have been made to hunger relief in West Hartford and throughout the region.

The Fern Street Food Ministry is a program of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, located at 43 Fern Street – its programs headquarters and where the Appreciation Breakfast was held.

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

What began ten years ago as volunteers helping distribute the Foodshare Mobile Truck to 72 local residents has now expanded into five programs that help West Hartford residents as well as those in surrounding communities with not only a bi-weekly distribution of the Connecticut Foodshare mobile truck but also a community kitchen organized in conjunction with the mobile distribution truck, a backpacking program during the school year, a sandwich program for House of Bread and a Food Pantry that was launched in 2016 and operates on the third Saturday of each month.

Carol Oriol-Jones, co-leader of the Food Pantry, said the strong support from the church was instrumental in the impact they were able to make in the community.

“I’m so proud that we’ve served over 90,000 meals – over 26 tonnes of food – to approximately 600 families over the past year,” Oriol-Jones said. Approximately 300 clients are served weekly through various aspects of the ministry.

While throughout the COVID-19 pandemic they have made the necessary accommodations, including being flexible about how they serve the public, the Fern Street Food Ministry has remained 100% open, even at first when most people stayed at home. They also proved they could fund themselves, Oriol-Jones Sid, and keep striving to do more and expand programs.

The Fern Street Food Ministry is comprised of 170 volunteers, who devote approximately 104 leadership hours per month to activities such as buying, picking up, delivering, sorting, packing and distributing food.

Grocery trips can be frustrating for everyone with rising prices and supply chain issues. Oriol-Jones said that while she might think, “Woe to me” when she can’t get her favorite brand of marinara sauce at the supermarket, her role with the Food Pantry and understanding the scarcity of food that people in the face of the community, is a reality check.

“We’ve seen growth in the number we serve across all programs with a big increase for the backpack program due to increased awareness within schools,” Oriol-Jones said.

It’s also wonderful to see so many people volunteering their time, energy and resources, doing ‘the right thing’ for the community,” she said. Some recipients even brought home treats they made with food they received as a token of appreciation for the volunteers.

Reverend Adam Robersmith of the Universalist Church of West Hartford was the keynote speaker at the Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

At the appreciation breakfast, keynote speaker Reverend Dr. Adam Robersmith, senior minister of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, and Vinh Vuong, network relations representative of Connecticut Foodshare, were among those who spoke about the important work done by Fern Street. Food Ministry to help West Hartford residents and neighbors in surrounding communities.

Many volunteers also spoke, sharing what the experience means to them.

Oriol-Jones credits much of the Fern Street Food Ministry’s success to “a dedicated core of volunteers, a diverse client base, an excellent network of partners, and a strong reputation in the community.” They also include teenagers among their volunteers, which provides opportunities for growth and learning.

Challenges remain, she said, and include pursuing diversity in the pool of volunteers, improving the quality and nutritional value of the food they distribute and serve, advocating against injustice and the focus on gender inequality of needy households that are often headed by women, and better coordination of various Fern Street Food Ministry programs to serve families.

Tai Feastet is the Social Justice and Food Ministries Coordinator for the Universalist Church, and anyone interested in donating or volunteering can reach her at 860-233-3669 or [email protected] More information can also be found on the Universalist Church of West Hartford website.

Donations are always welcome, Oriol-Jones said, and while food donations are appreciated, financial donations can have an even bigger impact because they can purchase items through Connecticut Foodshare at a deep discount. “For every $10 donation, we can provide about 25 meals…for a $50 donation, that’s about 125 meals. It helps so many families,” she said.

The Fern Street Food Ministry includes the following leaders:

  • Mobile pantry – Lisa Sgamboti
  • Backpack Program – Katherine Wilson)
  • Have A Heart Sandwich Program and Community Lunch – Peggy Gray
  • Pantry – Nancy Meskan and Carol Oriol-Jones
  • Steering Committee – Beth Brigham and Deirdre King-Hooge

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Food Pantry co-manager Carol Oriol-Jones speaks at the Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

Fern Street Food Ministry Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast. Photo credit: Mick Melvin

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