A perfect pairing of food and fellowship

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As a long-time Granby resident, I have frequently driven past the weathered sign reading “All Welcome Free Community Dinner Every Wednesday” in front of the community house on the south campus of Granby Congregational Church, 242 Salmon Brook Street, without much thought. I figured it was a church potluck or new member recruitment dinner. As I recently discovered, it is so much more.

The church is home to the Waste Not Want Not (WNWN) Community Kitchen, a food bank that provides hot meals, groceries and, perhaps most importantly, a beacon of friendship and community for many isolated people. For more than 15 years, its compassionate leader, Sandy Flagg, has marshalled 50+ volunteers to run this multi-faceted operation. I met Sandy when she recently spoke at the Granby Women’s Breakfast. She told us that her volunteers feel that they get back as much as they give. She encouraged us to experience the joy in volunteering by stopping by to help out. So, a few days later, my friend Tracy James and I took her up on her offer.

Sandy Flagg, founder and director of WNWN

When I arrived at the big white church, I noticed volunteers decorating planters in the entranceway. Volunteers Dave Langdon and Warren Miltmore were wheeling large boxes of donated food. Once inside, there was a flurry of activity in the large kitchen with volunteers Gene Juliano, Raine Pedersen, Marge Fiore and Barbara Healy making food for more than 120 people.

Volunteers wore black aprons with the Waste Not Want Not logo that were donated by the Simsbury Granby Rotary Club and expertly made by AdEmbroidery of East Granby. A trainee from the Granby B.E.A.R. Transition Academy was peeling and cutting apples for homemade applesauce. Volunteers Lynn Lochhead, Pam Jones and others were sorting produce for animals/composting, sauce or distribution. Volunteer Patty Sansone, a proud perfectionist, was precisely cutting and arranging cakes and pies for the dessert tray in the style of a fine restaurant. Volunteer Lynn Klumb, with the eye of a skilled decorator, put themed tablecloths and seasonal floral arrangements on the long 12-foot tables. Klumb carefully placed each arrangement to ensure the tables look and feel like home. Miltmore set up a beverage station complete with coffee, hot and cold tea, water and a “mystery” fruit punch I was reluctant to try. All volunteers relished their roles and did their jobs with flourish. There is a focus to live up to the organization’s name as very little is wasted.

WNWN gets food donations from FoodShare, Stop & Shop, Fitzgerald’s, Big Y, Starbucks, Blossoming Acres of Southwick and others. Volunteers make daily trips to the stores in their own vehicles since the WNWN van became inoperable. If there is a large donation, volunteers make multiple trips to the same place. The volunteers must weigh and document the contributions as the stores can deduct charitable donations.

Around 3 p.m. the patrons arrived with two shopping bags each. There is no charge for the food and meal, but some people made a small donation. Shoppers can choose from donated items that line the perimeter of the room. There were lots of breads, snacks, WNWN-made chunky applesauce, dairy products, deli items, frozen meats, produce and desserts. Oversized Costco coolers were filled to capacity with food products organized by type. There were also donated clothing and household items. Student athletes from Northwest Catholic High School carried the shopping bags to the patrons’ cars. Most people returned from the car drop off for the sit-down meal. Those who wanted to shop and run were encouraged by Sandy Flagg to stay and meet others.

Pianist Royal Griffin played light jazz and showtunes with gusto during the meal. He explained that his signature move was to add some additional chords in the coda to end each tune with oomph!

When the meal was served, guests entered the kitchen to have their plates filled with their choice of healthy food. People were encouraged to eat their veggies. On this night, the main course was chicken breast and asparagus served over rice with a green salad and a fresh fruit cup. Patrons helped themselves to dessert once the main meal was finished. By the end of the night, 120 meals were served, and five tons of food was distributed. Some meals were given for take-out.

Biweekly, a local beautician gives free haircuts and shaves as she understands the value of human touch. I witnessed how pleased people were with their new hair style. One man looked years younger.

Since that first day, I have looked forward to my Wednesdays at the Waste Not Want Not Community Kitchen. I recently encouraged my fellow Simsbury Granby Rotarians to volunteer, and they, too, experienced how a group of resolute volunteers can do amazing things!

Waste Not Want Not Community Kitchen is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization. It is currently seeking funds for a used minivan to support food distribution. All donations—100 percent—go for materials and supplies. Please mail checks to: Waste Not Want Community Kitchen, P.O. Box 606, Granby, CT 06035.

If you know people in need, encourage them to join us on Wednesdays or contact Sandy Flagg at 860-550-2219. New volunteers are welcome too. It is fun and rewarding!