The Food Center's seeds were planted during a time of deep recession in the region. It began as an informal but heartfelt program to assist the families of laid-off workers through the collection and distribution of food. It is only through the strong and time-tested partnership between the Labor Movement in Southeastern Connecticut and United Way that the Food Center as we know it today ever came to be. It first officially opened in 1988 on the campus of the Uncas on Thames in Norwich.
In 1999, the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center moved to a new site and celebrated its grand reopening at its current location in New London. The 200,000-square-foot facility more adequately met the space requirements of the growing program. The Food Center's location was made possible by a grant from the state, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Representative Wade Hyslop, Jr., Andrea Stillman, Nancy De Marinis, Lenny Winkler, and Senator Melodie Peters.
The facility was refurbished by volunteers including skilled union workers of the Metal Trades Council, AFL-CIO, Southeastern Connecticut Labor Council, MDA-UAW Workers Local 571, Teamsters Union Local 493, and Norwich-New London Building and Construction Trades Council, in partnership with United Way. General Dynamics Electric Boat provided paint, refrigerators, and other necessary equipment while their dedicated volunteers painted the entire building. The company still provides a volunteer one day per week to assist in the warehouse. In July, 2001, Dominion/Millstone Power Station made a generous donation of $100,000 for a new roof. In 2008, the Food Center celebrated its 20th anniversary and invited the entire community to an open house for food, music, and fun activities.
In 2011, United Way, along with numerous community partners, expanded its vision beyond providing food to advocacy. The New London County Food Policy Council (NLCFPC) is a shared leadership initiative with Backus Hospital, FRESH New London, TVCCA, and Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. The Council consists of representatives and residents from all sectors of the food system that collaborate on mutually beneficial solutions to food system problems.
In 2013, the Food Center hit the road with a new Mobile Food Pantry, a customized refrigerated truck delivering perishable food items for direct distribution to individuals and families. The program is a way to help people, some of which live in remote locations, to acquire items they may not find in a traditional pantry including fresh fruits and vegetables. The program's "no questions asked" philosophy and farmer's market feel allows individuals a level of comfort while utilizing it. The truck is made by possible by the generosity of Eversource and Connecticut Food Bank.
In 2014, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, United Way, and the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation signed an agreement that promises to bring fresh food to thousands of hungry residents of New London County daily through the creation of a "giving garden." The Coogan Farm Giving Garden consists of 30,000 square feet of space for produce that is all grown specifically for the Food Center to distribute through its network of programs. During the growing season, volunteers harvest the vegetables weekly, and the garden assists in providing healthy eating options to those struggling with hunger. Many sponsorship and volunteer opportunities are available at the Giving Garden.
If your organization is a free emergency food program and would like to participate, please call the Food Center at 860.444.8050. If you would like to mail a financial contribution for the Food Center, please send it to our mailing address at P.O. Box 375, Gales Ferry, CT, 06335.