Published March 03. 2014 4:00AM Updated March 03. 2014 11:49PM
Groton - The demand for free food has gotten to the point that the Department of Human Services and at least one church believe Groton needs a soup kitchen.
Christ United Methodist Church is concerned enough that it is starting a free community breakfast program this month, scheduled from 8 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 15 at the church at 200 Hazelnut Hill Road. The breakfast would be offered monthly.
Human Services Director Marge Fondulas said she spoke to representatives of the Episcopal Diocese at a recent community forum about the possibility of using the former Bishop Seabury Church for a soup kitchen. Fondulas said she also asked Town Manager Mark Oefinger about using the kitchen and cafeteria at the former Fitch Middle School.
"I think the town has benefited in the past from having a soup kitchen and would benefit in the future from having a soup kitchen. The need is there," she said.
Groton sees 100 households every time the United Way Mobile Food Pantry stops at the human services department, and the pantry also has a stop in Groton City that is just as busy or busier, Fondulas said.
"I think people are remaining on tight budgets and are remaining very much in need of what the pantry has to offer," she said.
Rev. Ho-Soon Han, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, said she helped register people for the pantry and has done so for several months. She said she's been struck by how many new families she sees.
"Some were returning, but every month we had new people coming in to get free food, and winter months didn't decrease the number," she said. She added that if food is distributed to 100 people, it reaches closer to 200 or 300 because it's serving families.
Han said that after seeing the continued demand, she and Fondulas talked about ways to help more people. She said the church opted to provide a breakfast and hold it on a Saturday because it believed it would be easier for residents to get rides during that time.
Both Norwich and New London have soup kitchens that are open most days. St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday; New London Community Meal Center serves lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, dinner on Sunday, and either lunch or dinner on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.
Fondulas said Groton had a soup kitchen at one time that ran out of Fitch Middle School, but then the service closed. Various churches have also offered regular free meals over the years, including Faith Lutheran Church on Poquonnock Road.
Oefinger said Fitch Middle School hasn't been turned over to the town yet, the cafeteria is filled with furniture and other supplies, and the kitchen would need work before it could be used. Oefinger said if the town had control of the school, he'd want an overall plan for it before committing the kitchen.
"I think you need to know what you want to use the building for before you start breaking off pieces of it," he said.
Han said she hopes the community breakfast program at the church will encourage a larger effort to create a soup kitchen in Groton.
"We are hoping we will start this, increase awareness of the hungry and the presence of the hunger in the Groton community," she said.