A public input session brought out a number of both proponents for the location, as well as nearly 50 parents, teachers and school administrators who said the traffic generated and loitering will only serve to cause issues and security concerns at the town’s largest elementary school.
“As a school community, we strongly believe in Bread for Life and know it is an honorable organization worth the support of our community, but we also stand by promise put the safety of our children first,” said Principal Jan Verderame.
Verderame’s sentiments were echoed by parents from throughout the community, 14 in all who spoke publicly before the commission along with School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. and Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski.
No one in the group opposed the mission of Bread for Life, “so that no one goes hungry,” but said the location next to an elementary school could lead to loitering of those using the service as well as potentially inviting those struggling with drug addiction or other problems to mix with elementary aged school children.
“I wish it hadn’t, but the whole world changed last December,” said Stephanie Leavitt. “The Monday after everything at Sandy hook, we dropped our kids off at school scared of copycats and filled with ‘what ifs.’ I believe they could establish themselves in a different location that would satisfy their need and even allow for further expansion.”
More on the topic from Southington Patch:
- Future Move in Imminent for Bread for Life - But Where?
- 'We Support Bread for Life - Just Not the Plan'
Parents also cited a police report, one which talked about issues regarding traffic downtown and a few issues including a drunk incident – an incident that technically occurred at a church neighboring the Bread for Life location – as additional reasons for concern.
To criticize the organization for these potential issues is unfair and not characteristic of the community being served or the success in operating a peaceful soup kitchen. Led by Bread for Life Board President Bill McDougall and Executive Director Eldon Hafford, there were nearly a dozen speaking in favor of the proposal.
Hafford and McDougall said to call a few people congregating after a meal loitering while comparing to churchgoers who do the same as fellowship is “unfair to those who are using the service.”
Bread for Life, an organization that serves 35,000 meals a year, most through delivery programs or pick-ups – Southington Community Services in Plantsville operates the community food pantry – has a better safety record than most businesses in general, Brian Davis said.
Davis, who uses the services, said it’s not crowded but does serve 20 people per mealtime in person and he has never once seen an issue. Currently, the residents using the service often walk from downtown to the library, passing the school, and no issues are occurring, he said.
Another resident, 14-year-old Hannah Olsen, also spoke in favor of the project near Derynoski, saying children “don’t deserve to live in a different world.”
“We all live in the same world and the way to make a change is to help one another. I think the location is perfectly suitable,” she said.
In the end, the Planning and Zoning Commission passed a 65-day extension allowing for the town and Bread for Life to work together – but even that did not come without debate. Kevin Conroy called for a vote anyway, saying 65 days is not enough time to find a different location and questioning whether delaying the matter until after elections is more politically motivated.
But the motion was tabled and Erardi, who said he could not support the location as presented, hopes that from the teamwork not only will a more suitable location be found, but a stronger bond and partnership formed.
“I envision further work down the road to have students from the high school take an even more active role in assisting with the operation,” he said. “This is something that could truly benefit everyone in the long run.”
YOUR TAKE: Are there too many concerns at the Main Street location, or is it a suitable place for Bread for Life?
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