Hunger is no match for a group that met with the Newington Kiwanis Club this week.
Newington Hunger Action Team founder Barbara Womer was joined by Newington Human Services Director Carol LaBrecque and Financial Services case coordinator Pam Wassik at Paradise Pizza in New Britain, where the club holds its monthly meetings. The trio offered a comprehensive glimpse into the state of hunger in Newington, where nearly one-third of residents are struggling to make ends meet.
“One thing we hear a lot is that people have never heard of us,” Womer said of the town’s HAT, a Foodshare-sponsored coalition. “We are trying to spread the word about what we do.”
Composed of volunteers and town officials who tackle the local food shortage at a grass roots level, the group is currently engaged in its second annual “Got Lunch! Newington” program.
Volunteers meet at the Church of Christ Congregational on Main Street Sunday mornings to pack up and deliver lunches to underprivileged families in town. These consist of five days’ worth of peanut butter and jelly or tuna/chicken sandwiches, along with carrot sticks and fresh fruit.
The very first “Got Lunch” last summer served 56 Newington families and 125 children. That equated to 1,550 cans of tuna, chicken and ham, as well as 5,850 pieces of fresh fruit and fruit cups.
This year’s program began Sunday and runs for ten consecutive weeks through August. So far there are 101 kids signed up.
“We had a few food drives that helped us get off to a good start,” Womer said. “The people of Newington we’re extremely generous. We’re still welcoming registrants.”
Stop & Shop, Steve’s Place, People’s Bank and Mortensen Dairy Ice Cream have also provided various types of assistance.
Newington’s HAT conducted a similar program during the school year, filling backpacks with weekend meal options. The group also grows and harvests fruit and vegetables in the town’s Community Gardens on Church Street.
For Womer, this type of community service is vital.
“I’ve never had to worry about being hungry for an extended period of time at any point in my life,” she explained. “So I’m really happy to be a part of this and doing what we’re doing.”
She educated Kiwanis members about the dangers of going hungry, which can hit kids especially hard. Not only does skipping meals affect physical and mental health, but academic performance and work productivity can also suffer.
Wassik is in charge of conducting case evaluations of human services clients. She assesses their well-being, life circumstances and personal needs before connecting them with appropriate assistance. For some clients, that means registering for SNAP benefits or the food bank.
A family of four must earn less than $45,000 a year to receive food stamps. Just over half of the residents who are eligible take advantage of this. Awareness and stigma are thought to contribute to the lack of participation.
Kiwanis President Dan Henry presented the ladies with donations for Human Services and HAT initiatives.
“Kiwanis members have been supporters of our department for years and we are so appreciative of their help,” LaBrecque said.
Henry also put out a plea to local residents to help Kiwanis in any way they can. The Big K Flea Market is held Sunday mornings, weather-permitting. The club is also looking for new members. Those interested can contact Dan Henry at 860-667-2754 or email@example.com.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help hungry families in Newington:
- Support and spread the word about HAT initiatives
- Attend the next HAT meeting, Aug. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the Senior and Disabled Center
- Attend the HAT’s wine/beer tasting fundraiser this fall
- Donate to the Newington Food Bank