Homeless shelter's Pagan honors church volunteers
Published 4:57 pm, Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Just after 5:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday evening, 10-year-old Grace Crookenden and 13-year-old Finlay Mackenzie, two New Canaan youths, served plates of baked ziti, salad, and bread to men at the Pacific House Men's Shelter in Stamford.
About half an hour before, Grace and her father, Charles Crookenden, pushed several plastic trolleys loaded with jumbo tin foil trays into the warming kitchen at the shelter and prepared salad and poured beverages by the dozen as the men filed in.
"It feels good to do something for someone and I enjoy talking to them," Grace Crookenden said.
Charles Crookenden, a parishioner of the Congregational Church of New Canaan, helps organize the monthly meal and said it involves up to 50 people who shop, prepare and then transport the food before serving dinner to about 80 men at the shelter. Many times he brings along his sons, Oliver and Patrick, to help, he said.
The church usually provides at least one evening meal a month through the Meal-A-Month program at the nonprofit shelter, according to Homeless Executive Director Rafael Pagan.
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"It is a great education for kids to give something back," said Crookenden, a New Canaan resident and on vline entrepreneur. "They live in New Canaan, which is a very affluent town, and it is terrific for (the boys) to see what life is like for people when things don't work out."
The church and its congregation will be honored with the David S. Mond Volunteer Award next month at the Shelter for the Homeless' 12th annual Rays of Hope Gala on Wednesday May 13. The award is in recognition of the church's 18-year involvement with Pacific House and the donation of thousands of volunteer hours preparing meals and financially supporting Pacific House programs.
The gala, which begins at 5 p.m., will be emceed by Chris Hansen, the investigative journalist and former Dateline NBC correspondent, and will feature a 1950s theme. The gala will include a live and silent auction, with reservations starting at $200 a person.
Since 1995, the church, in addition to regularly preparing meals, has donated a little more than $200,000 to support daily programs at the shelter, Pagan said.
The director said the in-kind donations of monthly meals from churches, companies and families displace the cost of feeding residents, so Shelter for the Homeless can focus on funding programs to help residents, which cost about $5,000 a day. About half of that is paid for by federal, state, and local government funding, Pagan said. The shelter serves about 55,000 meals a year to its residents, he said.
On a recnt night, the group of parishioners accepted a plaque from Pagan recognizing them for an additional donation of $2,500 to cover the cost of shelter programs as part of the shelter's Adopt-A-Day program, which started this year.
"They've been with us a long time, and the Congregational Church has been just outstanding throughout the years not only with Meal-a -Month club but with Adopt-A-Day," Pagan said. "The support of the community is crucial for us."
Two other church members, Judy Dunn, Finley Mackenzie's grandmother and a 40-year New Canaan resident, and Carolyn Mulry, also came to the shelter to help put food on plates to serve to the residents.
Dunn, chairwoman of New Canaan's Health & Human Services Commission, said her grandson was doing community service required to be confirmed in the church. The meal preparation for the shelter is just one activity under the church's missions, Dunn said.
"New Canaan is a wonderful and generous place and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," Dunn said.
The Mond award is named for the late David Mond, a Greenwich resident and longtime Pacific House emergency shelter volunteer who helped organize a group from the Greenwich Board of Education to prepare and serve meals at the shelter.
"It is given to a group that really epitomizes David's spirit," Pagan said.
He said the shelter last year provided 29,000 shelter nights to 457 men, with the average length of stay of 55 days. Last year, the shelter exceeded its bed capacity of 82 on 126 days, most of them in the winter months. About 34 percent of the shelter's population is considered "chronic homeless," which is described as having been homeless for one full year or homeless four times in a three year period. Last year, the shelter was able to find full-time jobs for 131 residents, part-time work for 93 others, while about 126 men worked as day laborers for landscapers or other jobs such as golf caddies during warm weather months, Pagan said.
"So last year, about 77 percent of our population had some type of employment," Pagan said. "But the big challenge in the Stamford area is really the cost of housing. When most of these guys earn low income or minimum wage you are not going to be able to meet $1,200 rent."
Those interested in attending the gala can visit www.shelterforhomeless.org to purchase tickets.