Adam McPhail, Contributing Photographer

On Wednesday, with temperatures high and the sun shining, the New Haven Youth and Recreation Department, or YARD, distributed boxes of food and medical supplies to members of the community on the New Haven Green.

YARD prepared to serve 700 meals, open and without cost to anyone, as part of its second annual Black History Month dinner distribution. Each community member received a blue bag that contained a prepackaged meal of pulled chicken, baked beans, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. Along with their food, people received a rapid, at-home antigen COVID-19 test, two N-95 masks, pamphlets with vaccine information and information about Youth@Work, a program designed to give 14- to 21-year-olds workplace experience. Additionally, participants had the opportunity to receive free nasal swab or saliva PCR tests. There was also a vaccine station where community members could receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Being a person of color, we always came together, and it was mostly love when it came to our food,” said Gwendolyn B. Williams, the director of YARD. “That was where we showed our love. So, the reason we chose to have a dinner distribution is because we wanted to share and teach that love, that kind of Black culture.”

William Dixon, deputy director of YARD, said that this year, YARD aimed to place a greater emphasis on distributing COVID-19 supplies and to reach out to community members who are still hesitant about receiving the vaccine. 

Some community members stressed that access to N-95s and rapid tests were the most important part of the event. They pointed out that these are particularly helpful for homeless people who are otherwise unable to easily access such tests or PCR tests. 

While the event initially was organized for the youth, both Williams and Dixon emphasized that the distribution was for anyone who needed it. People of all ages attended the distribution. 

Last year, the first annual Black History Month dinner distribution was organized differently. YARD prepared 1200 meals and stationed itself in six separate locations throughout New Haven, even driving around the city to give out food. This year, Williams said that they wanted to use the New Haven Green because it is more central and logical for members of the community. A more localized place also helps the community physically come together.

Additionally, YARD partnered with several organizations to stage the distribution. Along with assistance from Crosspoint Federal Credit Union, which provided bags for the meals and medical supplies, many organizations were directly involved in the distribution. Mission BBQ, a restaurant located in Orange, Connecticut, cooked all the meals and was part of the team that serviced the food. Workers from Griffin Hospital were present to administer vaccine shots and workers from the New Haven Emergency Services helped hand out tests and masks.

Many people believe this collaboration is crucial in bolstering community engagement, and that larger events with many partners are more successful than smaller, more individual events. 

“Every month we try to do something depending on what is going on during that month,” said Sgt. Martha Rosswell, community engagement officer at the University. “Anything we can do to help the New Haven community, that is what we are trying to do. It is so important that we all have such good relationships, because we all work together, and we all bring a different piece of that puzzle together to help bring out more of the community.”

Some in the community expressed their desire to see similar events take place in the future. 

“I think that has been very impactful, especially this time of year because more people are out,” said Mikaela, a local high school student. “To see more of these events would actually be really helpful, not only for the meals because certain people can’t get meals all the time but also because of the free COVID tests.”

The New Haven Green is located at 250 Temple St.

Adam McPhail is a SciTech editor at the Yale Daily News. Previously, he wrote for the City, University and Arts desks. Originally from Rochester, MN, he is a junior in Trumbull College majoring in the Humanities.