Editorial: More than just a soup kitchen

Jack Denorfia, center, cuts the ribbon during the Bread for Life grand opening for their new facility on Vermont Avenue. Front, from left, BFL executive director Donna Ayers, former State Rep. David Zoni, general contractor Tony Denorfia, Jack, BFL vice chair Dave Donnelly, and BFL chair Mike Soltys. Back, former BFL chair Bill McDougall and retired BFL executive director Eldon Hafford.

Bread for Life (BFL) executive director Donna Ayer made a sweeping gesture across the room like a tour guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She motioned to the freshly-painted artwork hanging on the walls of the new BFL home. She pointed to the banquet-grade plates and silverware, the shining hardwood, and the state-of-the-art kitchen.

“It’s a perfect example of how design can lift people’s spirits,” she said. “Our clients come here, and you can visibly see them brighten when they come through the door.”

On Friday, Feb. 17, the organization officially cut the ribbon for their new facility, and it’s clear that BFL’s centerpiece is no ordinary soup kitchen. From the outside, it’s hard to distinguish from the neighborhood homes. On the inside, it rivals any local banquet hall with its tiled bathrooms, hardwood floors, and brand-new, gleaming, professional grade stainless steel kitchen appliances.

It’s hard to think that there’s any soup kitchen in the state that treats its clients with more luxury, and it exceeded our wildest expectations. BFL has already begun serving food at the new space and, on any given day, they serve lunch to about 20 to 30 people at the kitchen (sending them home with bagged dinners). Volunteers deliver daily meals to more than 40 homebound clients in the community, along with group meals at local complexes each week, and more. But food is just one thing that the new BFL facility offers.

Their clients include the marginalized members of the Southington community. BFL officials said that clients live on the fringe of the community, often in inadequate housing, without creature comforts. They are often beset by mental illness or serious health challenges. Southington should be proud of this new facility because it treats the most needy with the dignity that all Southington residents deserve.

BFL volunteers greet their clients by name. The chef delivers a first-class menu in an attractive buffet. There’s no grey colored slop or unappetizing soup doled out on paper plates. These are real meals delivered with style.

The town already does so much between BFL, various local charities and non-profits, along with the wide-ranging work of Southington Community Services (SCS). But BFL officials talked with great pride about their dreams for the new facility, and we hope that they reach every one.

They are finally already able to let their clients linger after their meals, and that offers opportunties. BFL officials talk about adding mental health services for their clients and partnering with other groups in the community, like SCS, to do cross-over assistance. Soon, they hope to add a visitation service for their homebound clients, peopled by volunteers.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. This spring, they’ll be partnering with St. Paul Episcopal Church for a common good garden to bring farm-to-table produce to the menu. They will be partnering with teens and the STEPS organization to try to combat the loneliness that their clients often suffer. They hope to get families involved in their “family feeding friends” program, and so much more.

We applaud everyone that was involved in the project, with their donations or their time (check out the list: Bread for Life donor list). We marvel at the philanthropy of Denofia Builders, who not only donated their own time as general contractors but enlisted subcontractors to work for free. The artwork on the walls was done by local high school artists. The silverware and dishes, donated by the Aqua Turf, is the perfect final touch to a Southington masterpiece.

It’s amazing what a community can do when they set their minds to it.

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