'A Heart To Serve': Hartford Churches Team Up For Community Meals Program | Connecticut Public Radio

'A Heart To Serve': Hartford Churches Team Up For Community Meals Program

Apr 12, 2020

A trio of churches in Hartford’s North End have teamed up to provide dinner six days a week to anyone in need. The partnership is one way faith communities are working together to meet basic needs in the midst of the coronavirus.

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Fried chicken and biscuits were hot and ready to go every night at 6 last week -- the first week of the program. Jeremy L. Williams pastors Phillips Metropolitan CME Church on Main Street, which gives out dinners on Mondays and Saturdays. 

“The congregations are getting more excited and animated, and they’re also concerned about us because this COVID thing is no joke,” Williams said. “There are members of my congregation who have battled COVID-19, some of who have even succumbed to it. In these times, there’s a tricky balance between making sure we can provide for the needs but making sure that everybody’s staying safe.”

Tuesdays and Thursdays are the nights Mount Olive Church Ministries in Hartford gives out free dinners to whoever’s hungry, no questions asked. On the first Tuesday, the 175 meals the church had for that night were gone in less than 10 minutes, said Dion Watkins, Mount Olive’s pastor.

“We want to touch their stomachs, there’s a lot of families that are hurting,” Watkins said. “The church has to be beyond the four walls.”

Dion Jamar Watkins, pastor of Mount Olive Church in Hartford, speaks about the importance of a church reaching beyond its walls as volunteers prepare to distribute free hot meals outside.
Credit Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public Radio

Lawanda Beaufort came to Mount Olive on Thursday night for a meal. “It’s a lot more harder when the kids are home,” Beaufort said, “than when they’re not home because you gotta cook more, you gotta wash clothes more, you gotta do more.”

Marichal Monts, whose church The Citadel of Love gives out dinners on Wednesdays and Fridays, said that even one meal for people and families who’ve lost jobs or hours at work makes a difference.

“People’s money is tight, and so for them to be able to know every night they can get a meal,” Monts said, “and then maybe use whatever they have for lunch, it was a way of us supplementing and helping, and being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in our community.”

Volunteer Carmen Holley hands out boxed meals in front of Mount Olive Church in Hartford as part of an inter-ministry effort to provide hot meals, free of charge, during the COVID-19 crisis.
Credit Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public Radio

The initial idea was to have the churches provide temporary housing as coronavirus shuttered the doors of many homeless and transitional shelters, but organizers realized the logistics would be too complicated to coordinate safely and quickly.

As an alternative, the Department of Housing and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving helped to fund the meals initiative. FreshPoint, a Connecticut-based produce distributor, donated fruits and vegetables for one of the nights.

Rep. Brandon McGee, who chairs the General Assembly’s Housing Committee and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, is a member of Monts’ church.

“We’re known in this particular district to some of the poorest individuals and families in the entire state,” McGee said. “When you talk about preexisting challenges and then you add on COVID, it becomes dire.”

Together, the three churches gave out 600 dinners during their first week. The pastors say the menu will change each week, but the goal remains the same -- opening their spiritual doors to serve the community even when the doors of their physical churches are closed.