The Community Conversations series focuses on interviewing professionals in a local nonprofit to bring awareness to their mission, highlight their impact in the community, and provide information on how to get more involved with the organization. Due to social distancing measures, traditional volunteer opportunities are limited, however the need for support services is often greater. In this special edition, Community Involvement committee member Cassandra Eilers reached out to Nealie Newberger, Secretary of The West End Civic Association (WECA) to discuss the Free Little Pantries community project, to help address food insecurities in the community amidst the Covid crisis.
What is the mission of your organization?
The West End Civic Association
(WECA) is a neighborhood (West End of Hartford - WEND) organization whose mission is to encourage and assist all community members to be good neighbors. WECA works to enhance the safety, quality of life and well-being of its WEND residents. WECA promotes safe and beautiful streets, desirable housing, excellent schools, cultural and social events, historic preservation, and having a thriving business corridor for the benefit of all community members.
What is your role in the organization and your involvement in the pantry project?
I am the current Secretary and Social Events Chair for WECA. The pantry project landed in my lap because WECA was looking for ideas to assist the community during the COVID crisis and I have supported the 202 Laurel Street pantry in Asylum Hill - so I had
an idea they existed and were functional. I decided I wanted to have a food pantry as well and my husband, Matt Marks (Current Public Safety Chair WECA) discovered the Free Little Pantries
website. From there we presented the idea to WECA - who was excited to support the project and Guy Neumann of GN Construction generously offered to donate the construction of 2 pantries to start. From there it has been logistics and execution.
How do you implement the pantry project in your community?
We started by offering the first pantry to the community on our social media page
and shared it to the West End Living FB page which is a very active page in the WEND and has a really great following. It was immediately grabbed by a local resident (70 N. Beacon Street Pantry). The second pantry WECA decided to install South of Farmington in a vacant lot with permission from the City (45 Evergreen Street Pantry). WECA committed an initial $500 in restocking food supplies to help supplement the neighborhood donations to both pantries. We put a shout out on social media again asking our neighbors for support and from there it has really taken off. We have had an amazing response from the community and while WECA continues to supplement, they have been supporting themselves for the most part because our neighbors are very socially minded and care about our community as a whole.
What impact has your organization, and this project had on the community?
So far we have seen a lot of activity at both pantries, but even more so at the Evergreen Pantry. As WECA is concerned about food insecurities in our neighborhood, and in Hartford as a whole, I think the initial experiment has taught us that people will really come together and support each other as needed. We are partnering with another NRZ to look at helping with a potential pantry installation outside of the neighborhood in Hartford (South Downtown) and a third pantry that was privately funded will be installed on West Blvd. on the week of May 17th. I do think it has brought more attention to the efforts that WECA executes in our neighborhood and has made more people familiar with the organization as a whole. One of our efforts this year has been to make the public aware of what we contribute to the community through group efforts and I think this project was a wonderful introduction during a time of great need.
How can others get involved, with your organization and/or with beginning their own project in their communities?
Well first, anyone is welcome to donate non-perishables at any of the pantry sites at any time, not just our three but the Asylum Hill pantry on 202 Laurel Street as well. If we are really all in this together, then we are in it together and our actions should reflect that. Additionally, WECA has grant money available for community projects and more information can be found on our website, as well as other COVID initiatives
and resources for the public. We partner with local NRZs and are open to talking to anyone about ideas and partnerships that improve our neighborhoods as a whole, so reach out! Our website has a lot of information and resources that benefit our neighbors and surrounding communities. It also outlines our other projects and initiatives that are for the benefit of all. Our facebook page also houses all of our initiatives, resources - information, and events - like on our Youtube Channel
which has book readings for children, a visit by the Grinch, and a viola serenade from Jiawei Yan of the Hartford Orchestra.
*Photo courtesy of Zach Rubin