Pioneer Gemma Moran passes away, leaves legacy of caring

GemmaGemma E. Moran, the founder of the United Way/Labor Food Center, has passed away at the age of 99. Moran was pivotal in establishing a way to help food insecure individuals in New London County during a time of economic distress in Southeastern Connecticut. Her words ring true today that “no child should be hungry.”

Since 1988, the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center has played a key role in providing one of the building blocks to a good quality of life by feeding families and individuals facing hunger and food insecurity all across our community.

Moran’s parents emigrated in the 1800’s to Massachusetts from Naples, Italy. Gemma was the youngest of fourteen children. She grew up in Everett, Massachusetts in a diverse community of immigrants.

During the Great Depression, Gemma worked near the railroad at the age of ten in a sweatshop factory, producing inexpensive paper boxes and paper products. After graduating from high school, she began work at Eastern Gas and Fuel Associates Coal and Coke plant. The conditions Gemma saw and experienced helped shape her future as a labor leader, advocate, and human service pioneer.

In the 1940s Gemma became involved with United Way as a labor liaison in Boston. She assisted in the campaign for John F. Kennedy when he was elected to the US Senate for the first time.

She began working at United Way of Southeastern Connecticut in 1973 and served as a vital link between the United Way programs and services and working men and women. Through her work as a labor liaison and referral agent, Gemma saw the needs in the community firsthand.

Gemma applied for a venture grant and received $5,000 in a one-time start-up fund to establish a food center for the region, to support displaced or financially distressed workers.

In 1988 the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center became a reality in partnership with the AFL-CIO local unions and with the help of numerous volunteers. The Food Center began with just a few member pantries and has grown to 68 member agencies that are part of the local emergency food system to feed those in need.

“United Way of Southeastern Connecticut is devastated over the recent passing of the beloved Gemma Moran. Gemma was truly an inspiration for our community,” said Dina Sears-Graves, President and CEO of United Way of Southeastern Connecticut. “Her passion to feed those experiencing food insecurity was the impetus for the creation of our Food Center program, which is aptly named after her. Gemma’s work in our community is a reminder that one person can inspire others to act and make lasting community change. 

“Her commitment along with the partnership of local labor unions created the Food Center 35 years ago to meet an urgent need to serve workers who suddenly no longer were able to put food on their tables. This experience unfortunately continues today and because of Gemma’s foresight to create a program at United Way to address this need, we remain committed to feeding individuals and families throughout New London County. Her legacy will live on through the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center."

If you would like to make a donation in honor of Gemma's life and legacy, please click here.