Friends of Assisi gear up for Thanksgiving

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Mon., Nov. 21, 2011
Resident Troopers Mark Juhola and Tim Stearns are surrounded by FOA volunteers. Photos by D. Coffey.
Resident Troopers Mark Juhola and Tim Stearns are surrounded by FOA volunteers. Photos by D. Coffey.

When Resident State Troopers Mark Juhola and Tim Stearns pulled up to Friends of Assisi Food Pantry in Danielson on Nov. 20, a crowd of volunteers met them. They pulled 24 turkeys, two hams and 17 boxes filled with groceries out of the van.

“It's the right thing to do,” Juhola said of the Thanksgiving food drive for families in need. “It's about reaching out to the community.”

The small building that houses FOA was filled with cases of canned vegetables and boxed goods. A freezer, compliments of a grant from Jewett City Savings Bank, held an assortment of meats. An army of volunteers put donated goods in order for the Nov. 22 distribution, when those registered for baskets could come and pick the products for themselves.

On that day, the gymnasium at St. James School on Water Street in Danielson would turn into a mini market. FOA volunteers would cover folding tables with donated tablecloths, post signs, ready shopping carts, and stage thousands of pounds of produce and non-perishable items as if it were a grocery store.

“We're the only choice-based food pantry in the area,” said Assistant Director Pauline Millette. She pulled out a list of items available to shoppers. Those who register for the baskets can chose from an assortment of appetizers, fresh vegetables, baking items, nuts, breads and pies.

The food comes in from everywhere: Stop and Shop, Big Y, Better Value, United Natural Foods, Frito-Lay, and churches in the area. People drop off bags of food at the door. Pet Pals provides pet food. Sorel's Garage in Brooklyn donates money each year to buy enough pies for the families served. The Connecticut Food Bank allows them to pick up a certain amount of food. “We get carrots, onions, potatoes and turkeys,” Millette said. “We get pies if they have them. UNF will sometimes provide yogurt or fresh parsley and oregano. They give whatever they have available.”

“The community is wonderful,” Millette said. “We're blessed.”

FOA began 20 years ago, when Paulette Bolton and Mary Turnquist approached Fr. John O'Neill of St. James Church in Danielson.

“They asked if they could start a food pantry in the rectory, and I agreed as long as they named it after St. Francis,” O'Neill said.

That first year, they provided 25 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families. This year, FOA will pass out more than 370 Thanksgiving baskets for the needy. The food bank is open on Tuesdays and Fridays of every week. Volunteer staff grows for the holidays.

Millette, Director Jean Cyr and executive assistant Laura Kroll have been working five days a week to get ready for the Thanksgiving operation. The women are volunteers, but at this time of year, their work demands extra hours.

“We call it the miracle on Water Street,” Kroll said, as the back room turned into command central, with volunteers organizing food products. Pickles went into one box, canned gravy into another. “All the churches do something for us,” Kroll said.

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