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Food Soldiers

A Young Father Helps Volunteers Feed The City's Hungry

By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ, Courant Staff Writer

November 22, 2007

Whether you're just passing through or in it for the long haul, you've heard by now the rap on Hartford. There's no sense of place here, no unifying character. In a supposed "Rising Star" straining to be an urban center. You're hard-pressed to find real vibrancy and community.

But let's stop to consider: Is that hype true, or is it a convenient myth we've bought into? We're on a hunt to find out, through the city's nooks and crannies, meeting the people who haven't given up on Hartford and who aren't looking to politicians and public figures to make this star rise. They're the names and faces who don't get much news ink but who probably should. They're the people you probably see about town but whose stories you don't know. They're the folks building community, as they define it and on their own terms — artists, activists, movers and shakers. In this space on the next 10 Thursdays, we'll introduce you to 10 faces of Hartford that we think you should know more about

The names scribbled on the sign-up sheet now number 30, and some have waited in the chilly November gray for close to two hours. They pass the time milling about the courtyard outside the Charter Oak Cultural Center, puffing on cigarettes or crunching on organic apples from a cardboard box, free for the taking.

At 2:30 p.m. sharp, a scruffy face greets them at the door. Crisp blue eyes hidden under a shag of dark bangs, it's a face familiar to the regulars, and one the new folks will get to know if they come around a few more times.

Dave Rozza is a longtime volunteer with the Hartford chapter of Food Not Bombs. If he's not darting about Charter Oak, where the stay-at-home dad works part time, you'll see him each weekend distributing groceries to a line out the door and, down by the Bushnell Park Carousel, lugging crates of fresh-made organic meals with a loyal corps of volunteers.

In 12 years, the volunteers haven't missed a Sunday. They've expanded to Saturdays and now parcel out free groceries — 40 or so bags of day-old donations, all fine food otherwise tossed by local markets.

Some days at the park they only feed five, some days close to 50. So long as there's still food in the serving bowls on the make-shift buffet (a concrete park wall), they'll never turn anyone away.

"A giant community meal," the Hartford native, 29, says.

Solidarity, not charity. This is their motto. It's building community by serving community, where volunteers cook alongside the very people they mean to feed. It's not Us vs. Them. It's everyone at the table together. "You can go to protests all you want," says Rozza. "But if you really want to help your community, this is a way to do it."

Titles being counter to the loose collective's philosophy, Rozza is hard-pressed to muster one beyond the generic "volunteer." But he has a set of keys to the place. And he's there every week. We figure it makes him some kind of person in charge.

Jesus?... Josephine? ...Henry? ...Virginia? As garlic and vegetables sizzle in the kitchen, Rozza stands in the foyer, reading the names from the crinkled sign-up sheet.

One by one, they pick up their bags, today that fancy Whole Foods stuff. A "thank you" or "God bless," and they're back in the chilly cold. The elderly, the sick. The addicts, the homeless. The hungry for whom FNB has become a dependable source — maybe for more than food.

"Janis?" Rozza calls. A woman in a white knit hat steps up.

"Hi," she says, her face wrinkling into a smile. "How's the baby?"

"The baby's good. He's a cutie," the proud father says of his newborn, Milo.

"I can imagine," she says.

"I'll bring him next week."

Once outside, she rustles through the bag. Bagels. Fruit. Organic cereal. She exhumes a oversized muffin, takes a nibble. "Mmm. Chocolate chip."

The last of the names called out, Rozza and the dozen volunteers stuff themselves into a few cars, bound now for Bushnell Park. Clean dishes. A giant thermos of juice. Containers of tofu and bean salad, vegetable sauté and fruit salad.

The volunteers unload at their designated spot. A smattering of folks are already gathered. It's 3 p.m. They've been expecting one another.

For more information, e-mail the organization at hartfordfnb@hotmail.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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