By SHERIDAN CYR
Southington’s community soup kitchen, Bread for Life, and the Branford Hall Career Institute have formed a partnership to provide students with donated food and hygiene products from a newly installed food pantry right at the campus.
“It is such a relief to be able to provide some real help to our students,” said Kelly Lacluyze, director of education at Branford Hall. “Something as simple as providing a lunch helps immensely, and they are so appreciative that somebody noticed and did something to help them. It’s eye-opening for some of them.”
Lacluyze said many of the students live in an unsupportive environment and have difficult home lives where common needs are unmet. Often times, she said, it comes down to making choices between putting gas in the car or having a meal, or getting a job or going to class.
“It’s something like this that allow them to stay here and continue their education,” said Lacluyze.
The guidelines for being eligible to make use of the donated items in the food pantry are loosely structured. Students in need are encouraged to approach school administration with their troubles. If administration feels the students’ needs are legitimate, they will be given a punch card, each numbered 1-10. The student can then obtain up to 10 items throughout the current month.
Lacluyze said so far students have been very respectful of the system and haven’t tried to take advantage of it. Administration will even issue a second punch card within the same month if they see a student struggling.
“I can’t tell you how appreciative these students are to have this available to them,” said Lacluyze.
Donna Ayer, executive director at Bread for Life, said their board of directors chair shared an article with the board reporting a national rise in homeless and hungry college students. She called Branford Hall to see if this was a local issue that they were facing.
“As two community entities, we are in this together, providing a little bit of help for those who need it,” said Ayer. “This school has an above average level of care and compassion for their students.”
Ayer hopes the “circle of giving” can continue. She said BFL is continuously blessed by the generosity of the community who donate to the soup kitchen. Donations have been so plentiful that they are able to extend their range of giving.
“I hope that when these students graduate, they find jobs in this community and give back to somebody else,” she said.
Lacluyze said BFL is the conduit that made this possible.
“You’re out there in this community,” she said to Ayer, “and people like me are able to get in touch with you. It’s a spider-web of connections.”
Branford Hall students, Jessica Rawls, and a friend who wished to not be named, expressed their gratitude for the new food pantry.
“It’s amazing for a school to have that offering. Sometimes having something to eat can help you stay focused and have more energy to put towards your classes,” said Rawls. “Some people are too humble to ask for help, and might have a pride issue, but at this school, the help is discreet and we can feel a lot more comfortable.”
“I have really enjoyed my experience at Branford Hall. Teachers are easy to talk to, and it’s not as much of a hassle like other schools are,” said the friend. “And, we have an opportunity to get a little extra help.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.