A church near Wooster Square is looking to host a free breakfast program for the hungry once negotiations with the local community are complete.
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul & St. James, situated one block from Wooster Square, is in conversation with Liberty Community Services to allow the local service organization to serve free breakfasts every weekday morning to people with food insecurities.
While church members and local community service members support the new program, several locals have pushed back against the project, worrying that those attending the breakfasts will negatively impact the residential atmosphere of the Wooster Square community.
Dyer attributed the pushback to miscommunication and said many people thought incorrectly that the church was invested financially in the breakfast program.
“No money has been exchanged, no lease agreement has been signed,” Dyer said. “We are still in conversation about this, and yet people basically called me a liar.”
The current agreement lasts for six months and provides the church and the service organization the opportunity to back out within 30 days of the program’s start date, which is currently slated for sometime after Thanksgiving.
These breakfasts add to several food programs that St. Paul & St. James already hosts, including the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, which gives food to around 300 people every Saturday, making it the largest food pantry in New Haven. Will Oxford, program coordinator for Loaves and Fishes, said he found it interesting that people who live in Wooster Square pay less attention to this program and are more concerned with the new breakfasts.
Several community members voiced their concerns with the breakfast program at a meeting on Nov. 6, emphasizing in particular their worry for the safety of children walking to schools in the neighborhood, including Conte-West Hills Magnet School.
At the meeting, held in the basement of St. Paul & St. James, Dyer and John Bradley, executive director of LCS, presented a preliminary proposal to the community. He said the weekly breakfasts offer an additional location to the many already in New Haven where people with food insecurity could come inside and eat. Bradley also underscored that the program would be privately funded. With the exception of two staff members — a director and a chef — it will be exclusively run by volunteers.
Anne Calabresi, a New Haven community volunteer and supporter of the breakfasts, said she hoped that someday the people who needed the food would run the program.
Wooster Square is a residential community classified by the city economic development office as a “transitional zone into the downtown,” Dyer said, adding that he suspects some people are fearful that the less desirable aspects of downtown New Haven will come to Wooster square as a result of the breakfast program. Bradley mentioned that other residents are worried about increased foot traffic in the area as a result of the program.
To alleviate these concerns, Dyer and Bradley said they are both trying to keep lines of communication open with the community. Dyer will address many logistical concerns in an email to the community before Thanksgiving, including the maximum capacity of the church basement where the breakfasts will be served. Dyer and Bradley have already had conversations with the fire marshal and the director of the school.
Dyer said he also intends to work in conjunction with similar programs in the city to ensure breakfast attendees are directed away from the church to other food locations after the breakfast concludes.
Tensions among residents are currently high around Wooster Square, Dyer said, due in large part to current plans for the construction of 500 new luxury apartments, called 87 Union St.
“It’s a small neighborhood and it has a very strong identity,” said Calabresi. “I don’t know whether [Dyer’s outreach will] change their minds personally but I think they’ll feel reassured that we have the situation in hand.”
Despite pushback, Dyer feels that offering the space for LCS to use is consistent with the religious mission of his church because St. Paul & St. James has long been a bastion of social outreach in New Haven.
Correction: Nov. 19
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that St. Paul & St. James Church had signed a preliminary agreement with Liberty Community Services. In fact, the Church is currently only in conversation with LCS about implementing a breakfast program.