Sprague offers surplus food to those in need

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Sprague - posted Fri., Feb. 25, 2011
Volunteers Derek Thompson and Brenda J. Keefe unload donated food for the Sprague community food pantry. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Volunteers Derek Thompson and Brenda J. Keefe unload donated food for the Sprague community food pantry. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A dismal drizzle didn’t put a damper on volunteers in Sprague on Feb. 25, as they set up shop for some of the town’s neediest families in the local community center.

Bags of carrots, onions and potatoes, cases of yogurt and boxes of broccoli were all carried in and carefully sorted through before being set out for display.

It was the second week for the community food distribution center, and the crew of volunteers was expecting twice the business they’d had the week before.

“Last week we served 25 people,” said Brenda J. Keefe, outreach coordinator for Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Norwich, which helps run the distribution. “This week we doubled it to 50.”

Lee Methodist is the church community that absorbed the former Baltic United Methodist Church when it closed, said Keefe. Since then, the former church building has been transformed into a community center, used for both church and secular functions and often rented out for private celebrations.

Keefe said that the center has hosted concerts, movie nights, health van visits and prayer services that are open to all Sprague residents. The food distribution center is just the latest of its projects, she said.

Sprague selectman and senior center coordinator Buddy Meadows said that the town received a letter from the Gemma Moran Food Bank in New London, a United Way agency that serves as a clearinghouse for surplus food to local food pantries.

“I jumped on it when I saw it,” said Meadows of the letter. “We got the letter on a Tuesday afternoon, and we had [the food center] set up for that Friday.”

Keefe and others from the Methodist church outreach committee helped organize transportation for the food from the New London food bank, set up tables to display the produce, and even provided recipes and nutrition tip sheets for participating families.

She said those who ask to register for the food distribution don’t have to meet specific standards of income. “They just sign up so we know about how many people we will be serving,” she said.

The food is primarily of the perishable variety, including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products like yogurt, and some frozen foods. The community center isn’t a food pantry per se, since the food isn’t stored from week to week.

Keefe said that she has been asking for input from participating families about what kinds of foods they’d like to see. “We try to get a feel for their needs,” she said. The team can accommodate some requests, like those from a vegetarian family or a diabetic individual. Others are trickier: Keefe said she doesn’t usually see gluten-free foods at the food bank. The foods they offer are primarily donations from local supermarkets with surplus goods.

“With the unemployment level at 9.5 percent in this town, there certainly is a need,” said Keefe. “The leaders of the town have been very supportive. Our purpose here is to serve the people of Sprague. It’s an interdenominational, community effort.” She said Sayles School, St. Joseph School and the Academy of the Holy Family have partnered in the effort.

Meadows agreed. As coordinator of the senior center, he said he’s seen some people just getting by on their fixed incomes. “I think the poverty level is about 22 percent here,” he said. “Living in that situation is not a good situation.”

People in need who live in the town of Sprague can call the community center at 860-822-6595 to register for the weekly food distribution. The can also register at spraguecommunitycenter@gmail.comFood is available to registered families from 2:30-3:30 on Fridays.  

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