Two restaurants, Christopher Martins on State Street and Popeyes on Whalley Avenue, served thousands of free meals this Thanksgiving to Elm City residents and families.
At Christopher Martins, the tradition is far from new. The restaurant has been serving free meals to homeless and low-income residents on Thanksgiving for the past 30 years. A team of restaurant staff and neighborhood volunteers handle the cooking and catering. This year, the outpouring of neighborhood support was overwhelming, said Jessica Kownacki, who works at the restaurant.
“We were at maximum capacity with volunteers, so when extra people came to the door asking to help, we actually had to turn some away,” she said. That’s how many people were willing to volunteer.
She said that the restaurant served about 350 people and that although this number is smaller than last year’s, it is comparable to the numbers they have seen in other years.
At the Popeyes on Whalley, free catering on Thanksgiving is a newer phenomenon. Nikki Caffalette, general manager at the franchise, said this is the fourth consecutive year the restaurant has given out meals on the holiday. She added that the restaurant plans to continue in future years. Restaurant staff served over 1 thousand meals to residents this year, mostly families, Caffalette said.
She added that she enjoyed the opportunity to give back to the community in a hands-on fashion and that although she didn’t know how much the meals cost the restaurant, the event was “not something we were looking at in terms of money.”
City alders are also acting to combat hunger in New Haven. The alders began a food drive in October that has already yielded results, said Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, who is overseeing the project. DeCola said he already sent three shopping carts full of donations to the St. Martin De Porres Church in Dixwell. He expects to collect about 50 shopping carts worth of total donations by the end of the drive on Dec. 31, explaining that in the four years he has overseen the project, the majority of donations came in around Christmas.
DeCola, who has lived in New Haven all his life, stressed the importance of such efforts for the city.
“With our large elderly population and the poverty rate of New Haven being over 20 percent, I think [the food drive] is an important thing we need to do,” he said.
DeCola said the donations will be sent to a variety of churches and food pantries, which will then redistribute the food to impoverished people in their communities. Elm City residents can drop off their donations in boxes at City Hall or Shubert Theater at 247 College St. There is a third drop-off location in Hamden for residents there.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Mayor Harp also organized a food drive of her own leading up to Thanksgiving. The mayor asked residents to donate protein-rich foods such as tuna and beans for the drive, according to Grotheer.
The aldermanic food drive will continue through the end of this year.