Sister Theresa Fonti was working at St. Michael's Parish in
the North End of Hartford in 1980, and every day, people came
to the church looking for food.
Then she met a friend, Sister Maureen
Faenza, just back from working with the poor in rural Kentucky.
The two Roman Catholic nuns decided to find a place to serve
breakfast to Hartford's hungry. After a brief stint in a church
building, they moved to a closed luncheonette next to a package
store on High Street and started up with a 12-cup coffeepot and
a two-slice toaster. When the building was damaged by fire, they
continued serving from the back of a van.
They soon got another building, and their little venture began
to grow. They called it The House of Bread. Over 25 years, it
has become a remarkably successful volunteer agency - so integral
to the city that it's hard to imagine downtown Hartford without
The soup kitchen, now on Chestnut Street after surviving another
fire in an Ann Street building, serves 1,500 meals a week. The
agency also runs a transitional housing program, a day shelter
for the homeless, a single-room occupancy facility for homeless
males, GED and pre-GED programs for mothers raising children,
a Saturday mentoring program, a 27-unit affordable housing complex,
a summer camp for city youngsters in Vermont, a thrift store
and job training programs.
Because they were serving food, the sisters decided to train
people in the culinary arts. That enterprise, undertaken in conjunction
with Foodshare, began in 1999 and has produced 51 graduates,
38 of whom are employed at hotels, restaurants and institutional
kitchens in Hartford and the suburbs.
The sisters have had a quarter-century of success not only because
of what they do, but how they do it. They approach their demanding
and sometimes heartbreaking work with respect for the people
they serve and great senses of humor. Thus, they've attracted
hundreds of volunteers, from students to corporate leaders and,
meaningfully, former clients who have moved ahead with their
Sister Maureen said the need is greater than it was in 1980,
yet she worries that society is becoming hardened to the problems
of the poor. She said homelessness is becoming accepted as a
fact of life, something people no longer see. That is dangerous,
not good for the people or the city.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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