Community Services

   “A spirit of gracious giving” is what makes Branford such a special place. These words were “volunteered” by Alice Hines, during my visit to the Branford Food Council. We were talking about the number of volunteers in town who donate countless hours to support the efforts of Branford’s non-profit agencies to meet the needs of our community.

 Since 2000 the Volunteer Service Center at 30 Harrison Ave. has been the home of Branford’s Community Dining Room, the Branford Clothing Bank, and the Branford Food Council. Nearly three hundred volunteers find ways of helping here on a regular basis; some work a few hours a week, and some work every day. The most frequent reply to the question of “Why are you doing this” is “It just makes me happy.” Walter, a more than 20 year volunteer at the Branford Food Council, is “happy to be alive” after his harrowing experiences during WW11, and finds his volunteer work a way of “giving back.”

   There are many surprises at Branford’s Community Dining Room. The key word here is “Community” because this agency functions as an extended family for clients and volunteers alike. The focus is on providing fellowship, education and support, in addition to supplying nearly 4,000 nutritious meals each month. A home delivery program enables elderly and shut-ins to remain in their homes as long as possible. The volunteers who deliver those meals may also stop in for a friendly visit. Family nights on Tuesdays include a reading program for youngsters, and holidays are celebrated with special dinners. Saturday breakfasts provide a time for teens to complete their  graduation requirement for volunteer hours.

   Patricia Kral, the Executive Director of the Community Dining Room, values volunteers as “the backbone of our agency.” A “positive karma” of camaraderie permeates the kitchen and dining room, and volunteers have made lasting friendships from working together. Just like any kitchen “a million funny stories” could be told about what happens here. “Just when we run out of a necessary ingredient for a recipe, someone walks through the door with a jar of mayonnaise,” laughs Pat. “Happy surprises like that happen all the time.”

   What you see is not all that you get. These agencies are supported by hard working boards of directors, also volunteers, who do the behind-the-scenes jobs of fundraising, publicity, planning, shopping, accounting, networking with other agencies, and coordinating volunteers.

   The Clothing Bank is managed under the auspices of the Harbor Health Agency and has more than 6,000 registered shoppers from the shoreline area. About a dozen volunteers help the paid staff by cleaning, sorting, helping customers and distributing clothing for the entire family. Household goods, personal care items and pet food are also available. The volunteers try to make the limited space “look like a little boutique.” They all agree that they like working with people and especially like to see that people who have fallen on hard times “get back up on their feet again.” Asked if the clothing bank has a “wish list” all wished for more donations of new unused socks and underwear.

   There is a strong undercurrent here – an emphasis on preserving the dignity of each individual who comes through the door of the Volunteer Services Center for help. In addition to the food and other supplies they receive, there is the added benefit of meeting all of these happy volunteers. “Our “boss” must be doing something right,” said one, “None of us ever leave.”

The following contact information is provided for people who would like to volunteer or to make donations to these agencies:

Volunteer Services Center

30 Harrison Ave.

Branford, CT, 06405

Community Dining Room  203-488-9750, kitchen and Fax 203-488-0447

www.communitydiningroom.org

Lunch - Sunday – Friday, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Breakfast- Saturday 900- 10:00 a..m.

Family Dinner – Tuesday, 5:30 -6:30 p.m., Reading Program at 5:00

Branford Clothing Bank

            Monday – Thurs 9:30 a.m. noon, and 1:00 – 2:00

            Friday 9:30 – 1:00

            Saturday 11:00 – 1:00

Branford Food Council

            Open 8:30 – 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays


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