Free meals will be available for curbside pickup at Bielefield, Snow, Macdonough, and Spencer Elementary Schools on Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22 to support those impacted by business and school closures due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The meals are available to anyone, extending the community reach beyond students and families at the schools. Meals will be served between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. People who are unable to travel to any of these locations may also contact MealAssist@mpsct.org to request help in getting access to the meals, which Middletown Public Schools will work to accommodate.
Middletown Public Schools Chief of School Operations and Communication Marco Gaylord partnered with Lan Chi’s Vietnamese Restaurant owner Chu Ngo and community leader Patti Vassia to organize this one-time meal assist program with local restaurants. Each day, 1,300 meals will be available across the four schools, according to Vassia and Ngo.
Though this version of the weekend meal assist program is a one time occurrence, MPS hopes to gather enough meals so families can pick up on Friday and be provided with meals for the following weekend. Since Middletown Public Schools transitioned online on March 16 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, free breakfast and lunch has been offered every week day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the elementary schools and Woodrow Wilson Middle School, a program that the city plans to continue until schools reopen.
“Next week, we hope to have enough inventory where, if people pick up meals on Friday, we can give them enough for the weekend,” Gaylord said. “That’s our hope…. We’re taking it one day at a time. It really depends if we get our inventory in.”
Gaylord realized that this weekend, MPS didn’t have enough meals for students and began asking local restaurants for help. Ngo reached out to Gaylord and offered to coordinate with the restaurants, as she had previously established connections with them through her past nonprofit work.
“I offered to take over the task because I know there are many restaurants in Middletown and we’re all very caring restaurants and communities that love the community that we’re in, so in the normal circumstance we would all be happy just to provide these meals for free, but this is not that time,” Ngo said. “Many of these restaurants have supported the nonprofits throughout the year for so many years already, and this is a time where they can all come together and help each other and support each other.”
Within two hours, all 26 businesses Ngo contacted agreed to provide meals at $5 per meal.
“We figured this is just a good time for everyone to stick together and help out wherever we can and do what we can in this moment,” Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar owner Elisa Bramato said. “I know they provide assistance for the kids during the school week, but we know that people have been laid off and it’s just a very difficult time for everyone so we thought that maybe we could help out in some way just by each of us picking a time and a school and giving back on one day.”
To pay the restaurants, Ngo reached out to the Middlesex Chapter of United Way, a community-oriented nonprofit organization where she previously served on the Board of Directors for almost five years. She also contacted Vassia, who tapped into her nonprofit networks. Together, they raised the $13,000 necessary to compensate the restaurants within a few days.
“I talked to a few people and then a few people talked to a few people and convinced a few people, and that’s how our community works,” Vassia said. “United Way and the Community Foundation were the leaders in providing a good percentage of the whole thing, and…there was the Rotary Club and private donations and they all came together rather quickly.”
As industries and communities continue to be affected by COVID-19, Ngo highlighted the importance of community support in this time.
“It’s very important to have a wonderful well-connected network and also be in a caring, close-knitted community, that whenever you need, whichever time we’re in, we always manage to come together and pull every effort together,” Ngo said. “This is not me only. I cannot take credit for that. This is the entire community, from nonprofit to private individual company to friend and to city hall and the school system. They do a wonderful job. And we’re just here to support them.”
Hannah Reale contributed reporting.
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