Milford churches open doors to feed the hungry

John Lupica swallowed a forkful of homemade chicken pot pie and said it was delicious, though he wouldn’t have minded a bit more crust on the portion scooped out to him last Thursday night at Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church. The crust, he said, is the best part.
Lupica was one of between 50 and 75 people who showed up for the free community dinner, which is one of four church-based monthly meals for the area homeless and financially struggling run in conjunction with the Beth-El Center Soup Kitchen.
Lupica isn’t homeless. He lives in Milford senior housing. But he recently had to pay $300 for brakes on his car, and car insurance.
“By the time I get done with my rent and everything, there isn’t much left of my Social Security,” he said, adding that these community meals are a big help.
“It’s hard to make ends meet,” Lupica said.
Between 50 and 75 people usually show up for the Mary Taylor dinner, held the fourth Thursday of the month. St. Peter’s Church hosts a dinner on the second Thursday of the month and St. Mary’s on the third Thursday of the month. Cornerstone Christian Center hosts dinners on Mondays.
Mary Taylor Church started offering a community meal in 2010, according to church member Debbie Dubien.
“It started as an outreach and then we connected with the Beth El, and now we’re considered an extension of their food program,” Dubien said.
About 15 volunteers show up at Mary Taylor to prep and serve the food. Jim and Phoebe Repetsky were the head cooks last Thursday night, making sure there was enough chicken pot pie to go around. Jim said 76 people showed up for dinner last month, while 50 had been the norm. This week it looked like the number was in the seventies again.
“It jumped up last month,” Jim said.
He thinks numbers increased because people from neighboring towns were told about the meals here, but Milford officials have noted an uptick in the number of homeless people in Milford, especially in the downtown area.
Beth El Center Director Jennifer Paradis in December said a work group had formed to address the increase in homeless people around the Milford Public Library. She also said the greater New Haven area saw a 113% increase in the unsheltered population from 2017 to 2018. And while she noted that increase could be due to a change in the way officials count the homeless, she said those statistics are reflected here.
Mary Taylor Church, with an $1,800 annual allocation to fund monthly meals, is trying to do its bit to help. In addition to the dinner, the church also sends the diners home with a bagged snack, including a sandwich, prepared by Dawn Bettencourt and Diana Cable.
“Some people are homeless and some are experiencing budget problems,” Dubien explained. “We’re committed to keeping this going. You would think there wouldn’t be people in need in Milford, but there is such a need.”
Cornerstone Christian Center started offering meals on Monday nights in 2016, after looking at the Beth-El meal schedule and seeing where need remained. The church even provides a shuttle from the shelter to the church on Wheelers Farms Road. “We didn’t want transportation to be a hurdle to receiving a warm meal in a loving atmosphere,” said Kimani Williams, Storehouse Project operations director at the church.
Like Mary Taylor, Cornerstone welcomes not just the homeless but anyone in need, and typically serve 75 to 80 people in what Williams described as a restaurant setting.
“Our aim is to share love and to make sure people have what they need,” she said.
Tony Texeira is staying at the Beth-El Homeless Shelter and he was one of the diners last week at Mary Taylor Church. He worked at XPect Discounts, but the store closed three years ago, and Texeira said it’s been tough since then, even though he’s been working odd jobs. “Thank God you get a good meal here,” he said. “It’s not starving.” He said the people in need know where to find meals in the community throughout the week, and generally know each other from crossing paths during the meals.
These church-based dinners are really just the tip of the iceberg where community supported meals are concerned.
Milford’s Beth-El Soup Kitchen, in addition to providing lunches for the homeless, also offers prepared dinners most nights. The dinners are run by various volunteer groups, local churches and businesses on different nights, including Temple Emanuel, Milford Rotary, Platt Technical School and others. When there isn’t a group-sponsored dinner, the shelter offers a bagged meal-to-go for those in need.
All the community volunteers are a big help in augmenting what the soup kitchen can provide. Camille Franchi, soup kitchen manager, said without those volunteers, most nights the homeless would just be getting a bagged sandwich.
Some of the volunteer organizations bring their own food to prepare; others use food that has been donated to the shelter. The groups of 6 to 10 volunteers usually put in four hours between 3 and 7 p.m. on their designated night, and feed 50 to 75 people.
Franchi is still looking for more groups to volunteer.
“I’d like to get the whole calendar filled for every single day,” she said, adding that seven more volunteer groups might make that happen.
People or groups that want to volunteer can call the Beth-El Center at 203-876-0747.