HARTFORD -- Sunday, January 8 was bitter cold. A winter storm had moved through the state the day before and the streets and sidewalks were only partially cleared. Temperatures had started in the teens and barely cleared 20 degrees all day.
But First Church of Christ, Congregational (aka Center Church) in Hartford was the site of warmth and compassion. The church house at the corner of Lewis and Gold streets is the home of Warburton Outreach. This ministry helps with everything from referrals for shelters, free computer use for job searches, warm coats, and a Sunday evening meal. And when temperatures get dangerously low, it serves as one of Hartford’s no-freeze zones.
A group young adults met last Sunday to prepare a meal at the “Serving in the City” event, a CT Conference sponsored service opportunity for young adults. The team quickly got to work in the kitchen; browning ground beef, chopping onions, slicing bread, and mixing coleslaw. As the guests began to arrive they were greeted with hot coffee and the smell of fresh-baked cookies. A hearty dinner was served to more than 75 guests at 5 PM.
Dawn Karlson, associate Pastor of South Congregational in Granby reflected on the experience: “One of the clients we served noticed that Jamie and I sat down and ate after we finished serving. He came by and asked if we wanted more bread or some peaches. When we were done he graciously offered to clear our plates. It made me wonder... What does it feel like to be the one serving or to be the one served? If you're in a fine restaurant, it might be nice to be the one being served. If you're in a soup kitchen, you might wish you could be the one serving. All of us should have the privilege to serve one another.”
Center Church initiated the Sunday evening meal in response to the need in Hartford as all of the other soup kitchens are closed weekends. According to the US census, Hartford has a poverty rate of 34.4% and an unemployment rate of 20.2%, more than three times the numbers of neighboring towns.
Warburton Outreach Director, Nate Fox celebrated the support of local churches in this ministry: “We have only gotten this far because of partnership with UCC congregations such as Rocky Hill, Asylum Hill, Southington, Newington, Flagg Rd, South Glastonbury. Without them, our Sunday meal would never have gotten off the ground. We ARE doing a lot, but not nearly as much as we could be - there's so much more we could be doing through collaboration.”
As the kitchen crew washed the last pots and pans, Jamie Mazrek from West Granby commented, “I love to volunteer and I feel amazingly good after doing any sort of service. What you receive after you give to others is this overwhelming feeling of ‘I did good.’”