After months of renovation, the House of Bread soup kitchen and shelter has reopened for business. Only now, there's more room to serve those in need.
The facility on Chestnut Street has nearly doubled in size -- from 5,300 square feet to about 10,000 -- and has added a second kitchen, a new dining area, offices and a conference room.
"It was sort of squished and crowded [before], but we managed," Sister Theresa Fonti said as she guided guests on a tour of the new kitchen and dining room Wednesday. Fonti and Sister Maureen Faenza founded the House of Bread 31 years ago, when it was a small operation on High Street that served coffee and doughnuts.
These days, the nonprofit facility serves about 200 adults and more than 450 children daily.
"Never did we imagine that a little coffee pot and a toaster at the House of Bread would grow into this," Fonti said.
Construction began at 27 Chestnut St. in November. By March, the project began to take shape and last week organizers prepared their first batch of meals at the revamped location.
House of Bread had been serving food at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church on Church Street while the renovations were made.
The $900,000 project was funded by a combination of grants and private donations. The sisters, who began fundraising two years ago, credited the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving as a major contributor, and several companies, including the Farmington-based Metro Construction and the Shipman & Goodwin law firm, with donating hundreds of thousands of dollars in in-kind services.
On Wednesday a ceremony marked the reopening, attended by city and state officials including Mayor Pedro Segarra and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Malloy called House of Bread "an inspiration."
"I'm constantly reminded that government has to rely on charitable works," he said. "We simply can't do it all ourselves, and maybe that is the best way to bring about change in our society."
Noting the importance of operations like House of Bread, Segarra recalled a time in his childhood when, growing up poor, he would sometimes go hungry.
"In my lifetime there have been situations where I didn't have a meal," he said. "Hartford, economically, is a poor city. So many people are going to benefit from this work."
Charities are needed to "lift the mood of the city," Segarra said.
"We're trying to encourage people to reach their maximum potential," he said. "A lot of times it's hard to do that when you're hungry."
Faenza said she looks forward to resuming programs like Project F.E.A.S.T, which teaches food service skills to the unemployed or underemployed so they can get jobs.
"Most for-profit restaurants don't have this type of facility," she said, glancing around House of Bread's new kitchen Wednesday. "It's unbelievable."