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Harvest House Feeds Body, Mind and Spirit

Come in for Sunday dinner and a hug.

Every Sunday, people come together between 5 and 6 p.m. at Harvest House,
located in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church’s hall in East Haddam. Everyone is
welcomed with a hug from Cindy DiNino, the organization’s volunteer meal site
coordinator.   

Tables are set with china, silverware, dinner napkins, placemats and flowers.  
"It’s as if guests are coming home to visit", said Ms. DiNino. Her hope is that those who visit in person will enjoy the modern, cheerful surroundings, as well as good conversation, laughter and knowing that people care about them. 

“When someone is missing, people are worried.”

“It’s really great, because we have people that come every Sunday and it’s like
family.  They help each other,” said Ms. DiNino, who is also a member of St. Stephen’s Church.

She said they talk about their children’s issues and share information about
programs available for them, as well as job openings they learn about.
Those who come regularly are struggling financially and are either unemployed or
underemployed.  However, the Sunday meal is open to everyone, including divorced individuals, those new to the area, and those who simply want to socialize.

Everyone is invited to the free Sunday meal; it doesn’t matter where people
live, or how little or how much money they earn. “No questions asked,” Ms.
DiNino said.

The goal of Harvest House is to provide a hot meal to people in East Haddam and
other towns and cities.

Sometimes, people make donations, which are appreciated. “It’s not expected or
asked for,” Volunteer Coordinator Kathie Ibbotson said.

In addition to calling and scheduling volunteers, some of which are not
affiliated with host groups, Ms. Ibbotson ensures that host churches and
organizations are staffed with enough volunteers every Sunday – which run the
gamut between 6 and 10. “We have a few people who make desserts.  So on
occasion, we will call them and ask if they would like to do that.”
When needed, Ms. Ibbotson fills in as a server. She also volunteers four times
annually with members of her church - United Methodist Church of Moodus.
Ms. DiNino is amazed at some of the “fantastic dinners” host groups have made.
They include lasagna, Shepherd’s Pie, taco casserole, and roasted pork, ham, and
beef dinners with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Putting together a community dinner is expensive.  Luckily, Westchester Market
Place in Colchester and the Grist Mill Market in Moodus offer food to host
groups at cost. Salem Prime Cuts also offers a discount. Additionally, artisan bread maker John Gibson of East Haddam donates freshly-made rolls every week.

“They are so interesting.  He makes wonderful, wonderful bread.  It’s all natural; it’s all healthy.  He’s amazing,” said Ms. DiNino, a retired restaurant server.

Harvest House was founded on January 25, 2009 by members of St. Stephen’s
Church, who saw a need for a community meal.  It operates weekly with the help
of other host groups, which include Spirit of Unity, First Congregational
Church, United Methodist Church of Moodus, Christ Community Church, The
Sanctuary of Shepardfields in East Haddam, the East Haddam Democratic Town
Committee, and The Knights of Columbus from St. Bridget of Kildare in Moodus.

The Sunday meal is always held at St. Stephen’s Church’s hall, because it has
the only accredited kitchen in the area, Ms. DiNino said.

Since last winter, Harvest House has had fewer guests, which average between 5
and 10 people. She attributed the downfall to the rough winter and the fact that
a family of 9 moved away. Ms. DiNino theorized that patrons may be trying to
conserve their gasoline. Others may have moved away as well.  

Requests for Harvest House’s “take-home meals” have stayed the same. They range between 25 and 40 and come from people who are requesting dinners for neighbors, shut-ins and themselves. 

People find out about the community meal through word of mouth, flyers, and Ms.DiNino’s visits to the food pantry located at the East Haddam Grange Hall.  

In addition to publicity, she has other concerns. Ms. DiNino is hoping Harvest
House can raise an additional $15,000 to $20,000 to purchase a new dishwasher
and replace two small stoves with one industrial size one with a hood.

DiNino said the need for food is still great. The East Haddam food pantry served between 57 and 80 families in 2010.  That figured has risen to 175 this year.
Just like elsewhere around the state, “There’s a lot of wealth in East Haddam,
but there’s also the people who are struggling,” Ms. DiNino said.

She hears people’s financial struggles firsthand at Harvest House.  It’s also
visible throughout the town via “For Sale” signs on houses and cars. 

There are good stories too, like one individual who used to come and eventually
got a job.  “That patron made a donation,” Ms. Ibbotson said. “What goes around,
comes around.”
 
For information about how groups can host a meal, call Harvest House Meal Site
Coordinator Cindy DiNino at 860-873-3022.  To find out how to become a
volunteer, call coordinator Kathie Ibbotson at 860-873-9322. 

Donations can be mailed to , 31 Main St., East Haddam, CT  06423. Checks should be made payable to “St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.”  In the memo section of the check, note “Harvest House.” 

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