When Paul O’Leary of Newtown joined Connecticut Food Bank as Chief Operating Officer last summer, he was looking for an opportunity to involve young people, especially high school students from his hometown, in the food bank’s mission to provide nutritious food to people in need.
As the former COO of Danbury’s Dandy Foods, a wholesale food distributor, O’Leary frequently crossed paths with Newtown High School teacher Brian Neumeyer who oversees the school’s Culinary Arts program along with Lori Hoagland. Dandy often supplied food products to the popular program that enables approximately 200 students to learn about food preparation and restaurant management skills.
“I told Chef Neumeyer about my new position and the possibility of partnering the food bank with the Culinary Arts Program in the near future,” said O’Leary. “Little did I know the opportunity would present itself right away in the form of the Feed the Need Program.”
Feed the Need is the brainchild of Newtown High School Junior Sonya Stanczyk, who worked with classmate Matthew Baldino from the culinary arts program, to come up with a way to involve the culinary students with preparing meals for those in need. After several conversations with Neumeyer, O’Leary connected the culinary program with supermarkets in Monroe, Newtown and Southbury, who were already donating food product to Connecticut Food Bank. Now the students are picking up meat directly from the stores and preparing meals for area feeding programs.
O’Leary said connecting the Feed the Need program directly with the grocery store donors has multiple benefits. “It not only is getting nutritious, healthy meals to local people in need, it helps the culinary students learn a skill while gaining a better understanding that hunger exists in every community in Connecticut.” He explained Connecticut Food Bank benefits by eliminating the need to travel to pick up the donated food from the grocery stores. Connecticut Food Bank distributes grocery products to 600 food-assistance programs in Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London and Windham counties.
“The donated food is being prepared by the students and feeding people who are struggling with hunger in Danbury, Newtown and Bridgeport,” he said. Among the food-assistance agencies that benefits directly from Feed the Need is the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury.
In the short time he has been with Connecticut Food Bank, O’Leary said he is proud of the organization’s partnership with Newtown High School and for finding creative ways to involve the local community. “It is our hope to continue to support Feed the Need as it expands to other communities.”