Food and good feelings offered at Daily Bread

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Jera Mercurio and Stephanie Hayden volunteer at Daily Bread. Photos by D. Coffey.
Jera Mercurio and Stephanie Hayden volunteer at Daily Bread. Photos by D. Coffey.

Eighteen-year-old Jera Mercurio calls herself a part-time student and a full-time volunteer. On Feb. 1, she and six other volunteers staffed the Daily Bread Food Pantry in Putnam. They were on hand to assist clients who came in to pick up food allotments that are available every four weeks to families who qualify.

Friday was slow; the first of the month usually is, because food stamp money goes out early in the month. From the middle of the month until its end, the pantry is busier. Sometimes it’s so busy that they run out of certain food items.

A 2012 Putnam High School graduate, Mercurio has been volunteering at Daily Bread for almost five years. “My mother got involved in Daily Bread,” she said. “When I had time, I’d go with her.” Now that she’s older she helps out as much as she can. “It’s my second home,” she said. “I come whenever I’m needed.”

Mercurio knows what it’s like to rely on a helping hand. When she was younger, she lived in Norwich with her mother and brother. “We were in the projects,” she said. “We used some services like reduced lunches at school.” Now she wants to give back because so many people need help.

With an active client list of 465 families, Daily Bread is the largest food pantry in northeastern Connecticut. “We average 239 families, or 715 individuals,” said Director Ann Kathi Peterson. “Of those, 259 are children.” Since mid-January, 18 new clients have sought food at the pantry. “Most people are conscientious. They don’t come in unless they have to,” Peterson said.

Daily Bread is housed in the basement of the United Methodist Church on Grove Street in Putnam. Canned fruits, vegetables, beans, and spaghetti sauce line up next to jars of peanut butter and boxes of spaghetti.  Sometimes farmers donate fresh produce in the summer. Area supermarkets donate, as do area residents.

Peterson orders what she can from the Connecticut Food Bank based on the supplies on hand. Sometimes peanut butter, bread, cheese or eggs run out. Peterson estimates that she spends $45,000 annually on food, a third of which goes to the Connecticut Food Bank, which offers products at reduced rates. 

Keri Gardner started coming to the food pantry when she ran out of options last year. Unemployed and unable to pay her bills, she learned about Daily Bread from a friend. The once-every-four-weeks allotment, along with a monthly visit to the Connecticut Mobile Food Bank, helps her and her family get by. She lives with her boyfriend and mother. The boyfriend is the only one of the three with a job. There were times there wasn’t enough money for the bills.

Gardner eventually started volunteering at the pantry. “I thought I would give back for what they’re giving me,” she said. “There’s always a need. The way times are, both parents might be working and they still don’t have enough.”

A client came in as Gardner was talking. Mercurio brought the woman to a chalkboard where meat choices were written in blue. Steak, chicken gizzards, chicken patties, pork, deli meats and veal were available. And because there were two freezers full of meat, compliments of Stop and Shop, the woman could choose three meat packages instead of one. Then Mercurio helped her select a variety of canned and packaged foods.

“We all work well together,” Gardner said. “And you have a good feeling when you leave.”  For more information on Daily Bread, call 860-928-0169.

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