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Breakfast Fundraiser Benefits Fern Street Community Kitchen

Courant Community

Fern Street Community Kitchen, located at the First Universalist Church, hosted a breakfast fundraiser and its fifth anniversary, on Nov. 11.

The organization serves a free breakfast and operates a food pantry for families in need.

Local businesses, including Stop & Shop, donated food and other items for the fundraiser. Mayor Shari Cantor presented a proclamation and spoke about the ongoing need for organizations like Fern Street Community Kitchen.

The organization also partners with Foodshare in offering additional services, including a mobile food truck.

Sara Conner, who chairs the kitchen's Board of Directors, said the church continues their mission of feeding the hungry. Five years ago, the church, along with Foodshare, launched the kitchen and mobile food truck programs.

The truck, which sets up in the church's parking lot, provides fresh produce for individuals and families. On the first day in service, the truck served 72 people, eventually exceeding 200 clients. The free breakfast is offered in conjunction with the food truck.

Regardless of the weather, the truck opens every Monday at 9 a.m. Fern Street has only expanded the offerings in the last years. While the kitchen "experimented" with serving lunch and dinner, the breakfast proved a greater draw, she said.

Instead, the organization put the efforts into a Friday backpack program for school children. The backpacks are loaded with food and nutritious snacks the students can have over the weekend.

The students in the program have been identified as "food insecure," according to Conner.

"They can go home and get through the weekend until they can come back to school and have hot meals through the school system," she said.

The Fern Street Food Pantry opened last year, which opens one Saturday a month. More than 100 families signed up for the pantry.

"We're not necessarily serving people who have nothing. It might be that they get almost to the end of the month. At that point they're deciding between do we buy groceries or pay the electric bill," Conner said. "We like to think we bridge that gap."

In Connecticut, according to Conner, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 children are food insecure or short of daily nutritional standards. Around 20 percent of West Hartford students qualify for free and reduced lunches.

Conner tries to counter the image that hunger does not exist in West Hartford, a community seen as affluent. That skepticism has eroded over the years as the issue of hunger has come to the forefront.

"Our breakfast serves 140 people on average every other week," she said.

The kitchen's breakfast menu is built around the food supplied by Foodshare. In honor of Fern Street's first breakfast offering five years ago, egg sandwiches were served at the fundraiser, along with fresh fruit, juice, coffee, and cider doughnuts.

"We're having the celebration in November when most people are thinking about hunger, and are very generous. We're excited about highlighting this in November. We do want to emphasize that this a problem all year-round, especially in the summer when kids aren't getting meals in school," Conner said.

The kitchen needs to raise more money to fulfill the mission. The event also raised awareness that programs are available for families who need a boost.

"We're always looking for more volunteers," she said.

For more information, visit the church's website at www.westhartforduu.org.

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