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Catholic Charities of Fairfield County Joins with Bank of America to Launch Innovative Restaurant Partnership in Stamford and Bridgeport September 8th, 2020

Support Provides Double The Impact: Meals Purchased from Locally-Owned Restaurants Served to Those In Need at New Covenant Center and Thomas Merton Centers

Fairfield, Connecticut – September 7, 2020 – Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, the largest private social service provider in the state of Connecticut, received a grant from Bank of America to create an innovative meal partnership with local restaurants in Stamford and Bridgeport. The meals purchased supported the New Covenant Center and Thomas Merton Center, Catholic Charities’ partner centers that operate two large soup kitchens and food pantries in regions that were hit the hardest by the coronavirus. Not only does this partnership support locally owned Connecticut restaurants, but it put these delicious, locally-produced meals on the plates of those who are in need here throughout Fairfield County.

Rohans Family Spice delivers meals-to-go to the Thomas Merton Center

Before the coronavirus, Catholic Charities served over 1.3 million meals per year across the county through its soup kitchens, food pantries, and senior nutrition programs. Due to the ongoing health crisis, that number significantly increased by 300 percent. Catholic Charities used the grant from Bank of America to purchase food from local restaurants in Stamford and Bridgeport to serve at the soup kitchens at the New Covenant and Thomas Merton Centers. As so many businesses had to close during the state shutdown, supporting local restaurants is critical now more than ever, as capacity remains at 50% for indoor dining, and many restaurants have had to permanently shut their doors.

“As the coronavirus continues to impact our residents, it is extraordinary to witness Catholic Charities provide for our most vulnerable populations and support local businesses at the same time,” said Bill Tommins Southern Connecticut Market President for Bank of America. “At the onset of the coronavirus, Bank of America made a commitment to support vulnerable populations in the communities we serve. We are grateful that we can support organizations like Catholic Charities because they are so dedicated to helping those in need.”

“Working with Bank of America has been a blessing for our staff and guests. The project has allowed our guests to explore different food that they normally would not encounter. They truly enjoy it. Our staff loves engaging with the different restaurant owners and learning about their experiences and how they have been impacted by the pandemic, just as we have,” said Craig Adler, Director of the Thomas Merton Center.

A meal-to-go prepared by Rohans Family Spice

The Stamford and Bridgeport restaurants that the New Covenant Center and Thomas Merton Center purchased food from includes the Parkway Diner, Michael’s Italian Restaurant, Seasons Eats, Sunshine Cuisine, The Original Vazzy’s, and Rohan’s Family Spice Restaurant. Combined, these restaurants helped the food centers provide over 1500 meals to local residents.

Johnny Vazzano, owner of The Original Vazzy’s understands that his customers are now facing financial hardships and is doing his best to help ease that burden by offering discounts and promotions, like The Family Meal Deal. The restaurant feels that being a part of the community and maintaining a spirit of giving is a vital part of what they do. Vazzy’s has always given back to the City of Bridgeport even before the pandemic and have been regular donors to the Thomas Merton Center. Johnny Vazzano and his staff believe that “we are all in this together.”

“This project was not only very beneficial to New Covenant Center, but it was also enlightening. Our staff was able to meet the owners of these wonderful restaurants and hear their stories of how they were impacted by COVID-19. This virus knows no boundaries. It impacted these businesses, our agency and most importantly the guests we serve. The project coordinated by Bank of America helped all of us,” said John Gutman, Executive Director of New Covenant Center.

St. Catherine Of Siena Collects Donations To Support Three Area Food Banks May 6th, 2020

TRUMBULL—On a picture-perfect spring morning, an enthusiastic crew of volunteers from the Parish of St. Catherine of Siena wearing face masks and gloves welcomed more than 150 cars to a contact-free Drive Through Food Drive to support the Trumbull Food PantryBlessed Sacrament Parish in Bridgeport, and the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport, all of which are experiencing extraordinary need right now.  Through the generosity of St. Catherine’s parishioners, the May 2 effort raised more than $3,000 in cash donations and food donations overflowed from nearly 100 feet of tables.

“Demand for food at Thomas Merton Center has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 crisis began, which is now serving nearly 500 meals daily, up from 150 per day at this time last year. Some of these meals we are delivering to clients of other Bridgeport non-profits, including homeless shelters who don’t have food resources,” said Mike Donoghue, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County.  Mr. Donoghue extends a very special thank you to Dan & Kelly Murphy, Parishioners of St. Catherine’s who organized the event, the many volunteers who helped remove food from cars and deliver it to the food banks, as well as everyone who drove through with donations on Saturday.

Father Joseph Marcello, Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena, reflects that “Many families who came to help were wearing masks.  They had big smiles under their masks, which I could see in their eyes, as they were here because they wanted to help.  It’s attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that it is in giving that we receive.” He continues: “We don’t know who the recipients of this food will be other than that they are hungry and in need.  And we know that not one of those cars would have come on that day had it not been for Jesus Christ, who came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

Mr. Donoghue noted that “Our clients are hourly workers who have recently lost jobs, immigrants, homeless, or mentally ill individuals struggling to make ends meet. Please know how grateful we are for your help and support! Catholic Charities programs are a partnership with all the generous and caring faithful of our Diocese. Thank you for helping us treat every human being, especially those who are most vulnerable, with the love and respect they deserve!”

If you missed the event and would like to help, financial contributions for this purpose are still welcome. The Social Justice and Charitable Outreach Committee is using all financial donations to buy food which will be divided equally among the three food banks. Please mail your contribution for this purpose to 220 Shelton Road, Trumbull CT 06611.  Make your check payable to St. Catherine of Siena, and write FOOD BANKS in the memo line.

Plans for a second event are already in the works.

The Drive Through Food Drive was organized by St. Catherine’s Social Justice and Charitable Outreach team, led by Salvatore Spadaccino. Other initiatives that the Social Justice & Charitable Outreach Team has worked on include: toiletry drive, school backpack drive, Thanksgiving food drive, annual Parish giving tree, pro-life baby shower, and more. For more information on the Social Justice and Charitable Outreach ministry at St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull, contact Salvatore Spadaccino, Coordinator for Social Justice and Charitable Outreach, at [email protected]

The Parish of Saint Catherine of Siena warmly welcomes anyone who is new to our area, anyone who is searching for the truth, or anyone who is looking for a spiritual home. We are joyfully and faithfully Roman Catholic in belief and practice— a community of faith, worship, service, and formation—and with open hearts we invite all our brothers and sisters into a living and saving friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the communion of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  We are conveniently located at 220 Shelton Road in the Nichols area of Trumbull.

As seen in Fairfield County Catholic

Thomas Merton Center Receives Award from SHU March 30th, 2020

Bridgeport – On Monday, March 30, 2020, The Thomas Merton Center was informed that due to the program’s collaboration with Sacred Heart University’s College of Health Professions, the program had been selected to receive the College of Health Professions 2020 Community Partner Award in recognition of contributions to the college.  The organization was nominated for this award by Dr. Lola Halperin from the Occupational Therapy Program, College of Health Professions, Sacred Heart University.

This award is given to an organization which has demonstrated exceptional collaboration to further the educational goals and mission of the college. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sacred Heart University was unable to present the award in person. Instead, the award was presented virtually and the news of this award was shared with the SHU Community.

“We are humbled to receive such an honor from Sacred Heart during such a tumultuous time in all of our lives. ” stated Craig Adler, Director of The Thomas Merton Center. “Our staff truly appreciates the collaboration we have with Sacred Heart University. Now more than ever we see the value of Health Care Professionals in our world and The Thomas Merton Center is proud to be part of the educational process for the students of Sacred Heart University.”

 

Catholic Charities Resources Stressed As Crisis Grows March 30th, 2020

BRIDGEPORT—The demand for food resources at Catholic Charities of Fairfield County has increased 50 percent in recent weeks and may double because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to Executive Director Michael Donoghue.

The three soup kitchens that serve the county have seen a significant rise in demand as more people turn to them at a time when other food pantries and cafes have closed, he said. The need is so great that entire families have been showing up and waiting in long lines for meals.

“Just about all of our 30-plus programs are open,” Donoghue said. “This is when our clients really need us. The working poor, the homeless, and the elderly are the ones being hurt the most by this crisis, and our mission has always been to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors in Fairfield County.”

The food services teams of Catholic Charities have been dealing with increasing demand at New Covenant Center in Stamford, Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and Morning Glory Breakfast Program in Danbury.

In Stamford, where there is no other food cafe for eight miles, the staff at New Covenant Center is serving 300 meals a day, up from 200 last year, and the total could pass 400, Donoghue said.

Because food pantries and services in the area have shut down, Catholic Charities is assisting other non-profits that serve the homeless and immigrant community, including Pacific House shelter, he said.

New Covenant Center also runs a food pantry three days a week for low-income residents, who can receive up to 10 days of groceries a month.

“That demand has gone up substantially, and we expect it to rise even more,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-century pandemic, and if there is any time the services of Catholic Charities are needed, it is right now.”

Because of the regulations that require social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, people are not permitted to congregate in the cafeteria, and the Center has been offering takeout for clients.

Similar restrictions are in place at Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport, which previously served breakfast and lunch and is now providing some 250 takeout meals a day, up from 150. Because other soup kitchens in Bridgeport have closed, Catholic Charities is providing assistance to them, along with several shelters.

In Danbury, which is served by the Morning Glory Breakfast Program, Catholic Charities has an outreach team that is working with the city to provide food and blankets for the homeless after the shelter was forced to close and residents were relocated to a nearby gymnasium, Donoghue said.

“In an environment like this, anyone who is homeless certainly needs food, along with those who have lost their jobs and are trying to make ends meet to pay their rent,” Donoghue said.

Catholic Charities also operates a Meals on Wheels program in lower Fairfield County, which provides 275 meals a day to the home-bound elderly. A network of eight drivers delivers prepackaged meals to shut-ins.

“In many cases, our driver is the only person these elderly people will see on a given day,” Donoghue said. “They will go to the door to make sure they are OK and drop off the meal.”

That demand has also increased significantly, he said.

“I can’t say enough about the employees of Catholic Charities who put themselves in harm’s way every single day,” he said. “They are showing up to work every day. I am so proud to be part of this organization, which helps the poor and vulnerable, especially at a time like this.”

The demand on employees is particularly difficult now because many of the 2000 local volunteers who assisted the staff are over 65 years old, retired and in high-risk categories. They have been advised to stay home to avoid contracting COVID-19, he said.

At the same time, Donoghue said, supporters of Catholic Charities are helping out in other ways, and many people have been buying extra groceries and dropping them off at the soup kitchens.

Catholic Charities also runs Room to Grow Preschool in Norwalk, which is temporarily closed due to the Governor’s orders on school closures. However, the teachers and director have been doing food collections at the school once a week and developed a system that lets families drive by and pick up a bag of groceries.

Donoghue said the crisis has also strained services that support immigrants and provide behavioral health counseling, particularly among those suffering depression and anxiety.

“This is the time we need the help and support of the community,” Donoghue said. “We need donations because our costs have gone up as we  serve people in need and offer assistance to other non-profits.”

To make a donation or use Amazon Wish List to purchase supplies such as food containers, bottled water and bags for the soup kitchens, go to the website of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, www.ccfairfield.org and click on the link “How you can help us respond to the Covid-19 crisis.”

“Catholic Charities is doing everything we can to step up and step into the void that has been created,” Donoghue said. “We need donations now more than ever to serve the least of our brothers as we’re asked to do in Matthew:25.”

AS SEEN IN FAIRFIELD COUNTY CATHOLIC

Thomas Merton Center Highlighted on Channel 12 News March 30th, 2020

Recently, the Thomas Merton Center was visited by Frank Reccia of Channel 12 News. Channel 12 News featured The Thomas Merton Center and their efforts to help those in need during the COVID-19 crisis. You can watch the news clip in its entirety here.

Thomas Merton Center Has Huge Holiday Impact December 19th, 2019

Jason Lambert of Trumbull delivers an SUV full of food donations to the Thomas Merton Center.

BRIDGEPORT—The Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport had an extremely successful Thanksgiving holiday. According to Director Craig Adler the local soup kitchen and pantry was able to serve more people than ever thanks to donations from local donors, including one area teen.

Fourteen year-old Jason Lambert of Trumbull organized his own food drive after being inspired by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano’s “We Stand With Christ” campaign. He collected enough nonperishable grocery items to stuff an SUV, which he delivered to the Thomas Merton Center’s Eat Smart Marketplace food pantry just in time for Thanksgiving.

“With Jason’s help, our food pantry distributed groceries to approximately 305 families during the week of Thanksgiving. This represents somewhere between 900 and 1,000 individuals being fed through the pantry alone,” states Adler. In addition to meals distributed by the food pantry, the soup kitchen served breakfast to 120 individuals the day before Thanksgiving and a Thanksgiving meal to approximately 200 people.

Center staff, volunteers and guests were surprised by a visit from Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim who stopped by on Wednesday to spend time talking with guests before getting behind the counter with his staff to serve lunch to those in attendance.

The Thomas Merton Center, a program of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, Inc., is located on Madison Avenue in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Thomas Merton Center is committed to providing a loving, safe and hope-filled community atmosphere that responds to the needs of its guests and residents and respects the dignity of each person.

(For more information on how you can help the Thomas Merton Center by making a donation or volunteering your time, visit the program website at www.themertoncenter.org.)

Paying It Forward September 9th, 2019

Sabine Kuczo with George Alberto as he donates over 160 boxes of cereal to the Thomas Merton Center.

George Alberto has been involved in his local community and been doing acts of charity for as long as he can remember. As a parishioner of Saint Patrick’s Parish in Bridgeport and a member of the Knights of Columbus for Council 4716, volunteering has been part of his weekly life especially since one of the directives of the Knights is to complete acts of charity.

He first started to assist the staff at the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport 15 years ago. Fellow parishioners of Saint Patrick’s Church, Larry and Sharon Jones, invited him to serve lunch with them at the Merton Center and George has continued to do so ever since. The group from Saint Patrick’s serves lunch at Merton the last Friday of every month. The Knights’ council that he serves on has also completed many works of charity with Merton, including food drives for the soup kitchen, preparing thanksgiving baskets, and simply making monetary donations.

These acts of charity are normal for George, who says, “I personally believe in paying it forward and assisting those in need. I also work with other local charities and institutions such as the Sisters of Charity, the Kennedy Center, Home of the Brave and Saint Catherine’s Academy.”

The volunteers from Realty One Group Connect in Monroe.

George has such strong beliefs about paying it forward that he introduced his co-workers at Realty One Group Connect in Monroe to the Thomas Merton Center. In May 2019, a team from the office lead by owners/brokers Chris Bacoulis and John McBride helped plan and plant a vegetable garden. They also spent time organizing clothes and toiletries. In July, George informed his colleagues that Merton was in need of breakfast cereal. In just under a month and with help from outside businesses such as Commerce Park Childrens’ Dentistry and Orthodontics, the group collected and delivered over 160 boxes of cereal.

The Thomas Merton Center is committed to providing a loving, safe and hope-filled community atmosphere, which responds to the needs of its guests. Through its Food Pantry, Merton provides close to 1,000 families with 10 days of food, which amounts to 30 meals once per month. The House of Hospitality serves breakfast and lunch daily to approximately 300 men, women and children. None of this would be possible without volunteers like George and the people from Realty One Group.

If you would like more information on how you could help the Thomas Merton Center, contact Sabine Kuczo at [email protected] or visit the Thomas Merton webpage at https://www.themertoncenter.org/.

Written by Amy Zajac

Adler to Lead the Thomas Merton Center August 29th, 2019

Al Barber, President of Catholic Charities proudly announces the appointment of Craig Adler as the new Director for the Thomas Merton Center. “Craig is a resident of Westport and will be joining the agency in early September. He comes with very impressive background including extensive financial and non-profit experience.”

Most recently, he has been the Fundraising Director for the Norwalk Housing Authority Scholarship Foundation where he grew it from a breakeven financial position to having an 18 month surplus in one year and initiated a planned giving program. Adler also has experience with the National MS Foundation, the Connecticut Food Bank, the House of Possibilities in Boston, the Westport Sunrise Rotary and many other non-profit agencies.

Adler attended the Indiana University Lily School of Fundraising in 2018 and was a Fellow at the University of Connecticut Nonprofit Leadership Program.  His finance career included positions at Greenwich Associates, C3 Capital LLC/WBB Securities, First Creek Capital in Westport, Credit Suisse, and Daiwa Securities. He also speaks Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Catholic Charities is blessed to add Craig Adler to its team and feels he will be an asset to the Thomas Merton Center. The Thomas Merton Center was founded in 1974 by a group of concerned individuals who saw a need for services to the economically disadvantaged people in the city of Bridgeport. As the times have changed and the needs of the people we serve have changed we have developed programs that address issues such as housing, nutritional needs, healthcare needs, parenting issues and youth at risk. Merton provides breakfast, lunch and day shelter to approximately 260 people each day Monday through Saturday. We serve about 85,000 meals a year.

Written by Amy Zajac