On Monday, Nov. 2, members of Food Not Bombs attended a small ceremony at the Buttonwood Tree Cultural Center to receive a check for a $2,000 grant from the Liberty Bank Foundation. After months of fighting to be able to continue sharing food, Food Not Bombs member Eric Sherman ’10 said that the grant showed the changing attitude of the Middletown community.

“It’s great when some groups recognize that Food Not Bombs is a good thing,” he said. “It’s funny because basically we’re doing the same exact thing that we were doing last year, but now in terms of the surrounding climate and awareness, people in Middletown are with it.”

Sherman believes that the recent public interest in Food Not Bombs derives from the legal battle between the group and the Middletown Health Department over a cease-and-desist order issued last March. Last month, Connecticut law was amended to allow groups such as Food Not Bombs to share food cooked in private kitchens with the public.

In the months between the beginning of the legal battle and the change in the law, Food Not Bombs has been using the kitchen of First Church on Court St. to prepare food. Anne-Marie Cannata, Executive Director of the Buttonwood Tree, where the group shares food, and member of First Church, served as the liaison between the group and the church. With this recent grant, Food Not Bombs will be able to refund the church for providing the space to cook in.

Cannata, who applied for the grant, said that the funds will be distributed between the Buttonwood Tree, First Church, and Food Not Bombs.

“Food Not Bombs will give some money to First Church as a rental fee, but just a little bit,” she said. “The bulk of it will go to Food Not Bombs for pots and pans and food supplies and paper goods.”

Although Food Not Bombs can now legally share food cooked in unlicensed kitchens, Sherman said that he sees no reason why the partnership between Food Not Bombs and First Church would end.

“The church is a great place and they’re really nice to us,” he said. “Now that we have something to give to them, it’s not just a one-sided relationship.”

The Liberty Bank Foundation awarded grants to seven local organizations at the ceremony. According to their website, the “Foundation has given over $5 million in grants to local non-profit organizations that our neighbors depend on” and this year is dedicated specifically to supporting non-profits “in responding to the needs generated by the current economic downturn.”

When Cannata heard about the grant, she contacted the Liberty Bank Foundation to ask which of the Buttonwood Tree’s programs would qualify. Food Not Bombs was the only one that fit the specifications.

“One of the things these economic times have done is changed organizations’ focus on what projects they want to fund,” she said. “Their thought is that we want to take care of peoples’ basic needs before we fund other things.”

Cannata said that she agrees that providing basic human services should be the priority for non-profits but that she hopes support for the arts will be next in line for funding.

“Once people have food and shelter, they need to develop their own being and potential,” she said. “The arts are a way to do that.”

Still, she said Food Not Bombs’ priorities fit with the values of the Buttonwood Tree.

“It’s about freedom, it’s about expressing yourself, and it’s about the right to do what you want to do and not have somebody stand in your way,” she said. “Food Not Bombs basically says we need to take care of each other and we can’t let the government stand in our way. Certainly, that’s what we’re all about as well.”

Food Not Bombs meets Sundays at 11 a.m. at First Church to prepare food and then moves to the Buttonwood Tree to share the meal. The group welcomes new members.

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