- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) - Lydia Berrios of Torrington said the Friends in Service to Humanity (FISH) of Northwest Connecticut homeless shelter truly helped her, her son, his wife, and their grandchildren.

“They helped us all find a place,” Berrios said. “It is amazing. I have never been to a place where they have helped so much.” Berrios hugged her grandchildren Rodrigo, 3, and Hailey, 5.

Berrios’ son Gilberto Rodriguez added, “FISH has helped our family so much.”

The family was among 45 attendees consisting of former and current clients, volunteers; and advocates at the second annual Rally to End Hunger & Homelessness Saturday at The Gathering Place homeless hospitality center at 21 Prospect St. The rally later moved on to tours of the FISH homeless shelter at 332 South Main Street and then culminated in a noonday free community pasta lunch and coat giveaway for about 150 at the Knights of Columbus headquarters at 152 Litchfield St.

At the initial rally at The Gathering Place, FISH President Steven Caruso and Executive Director Deirdre Houlihan DiCara of Friends in Service to Humanity both addressed the crowd outside The Gathering Place. Some people carried a red-and-blue-print-on-white “Rally to End Homeless & Hunger in NW CT” banner.

DiCara pointed out that theirs was the largest event on homeless in the region. “Our coat count is 400,” she said. “It’s has been tremendous. Whatever we don’t give away today we will donate to the Winsted Soup Kitchen and the Northwest Y.”

DiCara referred to The Open Door Soup Kitchen and the Northwest YMCA, which are both located in Winsted. “I hope as many people that are here today are there for the Northwest region as well,” she added.

The rally was timed to coincide with National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, which is held the week before Thanksgiving to foster empathy with neighbors in economic crisis. The charity organization Feeding America has stated recently that hunger exists in every county in the U.S., affecting 48 million Americans, which includes 15 million children.

FISH food pantry manager Margaret Franzi commented at the rally: “It’s good to have people here and realize that help is needed.”

FISH staff manager Robin King added, “It’s a great turnout.”

Charlotte Hungerford Hospital Coordinator of Homeless Outreach Nancy Cannavo gave a tour to about 15 people of The Gathering Place, which had opened June 10, 2015, and which processes homeless clients into social services and gives them a place to wash their clothes and get a haircut. “Since we opened, we have had 3,420 visits,” Cannavo said. “By the end of September 2016, we had 1,126 unduplicated visits. Also, 37 chronically homeless were housed.”

Cannavo, who also works as a psychiatric nurse, led visitors through the renovated nursery and meeting room, replete with new floors. Cannavo noted after the tour: “Torrington really had a homeless problem about 18 years ago, when I first started this work. It has spiked in the last five years.” She added, “The State wants to end chronic homelessness.”

The rally moved on to tours of the FISH homeless shelter and food pantry at 332 S. Main St. Food bank volunteer Linda Marconi said to a group of about 12 visitors: “We have served 525 registered families in the Northwest Corner recently.”

FISH food pantry manager Margaret Franzi gave a tour of the freshly-stocked shelves, which are open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We typically serve 30 families a day, with four to a family,” Franzi said. “Local supermarkets are really good to us. We can bring back 600 pounds of meat at Stop & Shop in one run.”

In the basement’s “overflow” food area, intern Jeffrey Bosworth showed visitors the walk-in freezer containing a large pile of Thanksgiving turkeys. “This way, people can get all their food in one stop,” Bosworth. “Previously, they would pick up their groceries here and have to pick up the turkey at another location.” He added, “We are excited to also be getting a walk-in cooler refrigerator to store food in.”

Deirdre Houlihan DiCara and FISH president Steven Caruso gave a tour of the dormitory-style, 35-bed shelter, whose rooms were divided by gender. A separate living space was reserved for five U.S. war veterans. “It is the most modest house in the world, but it’s an amazing, amazing place,” DiCara said. “Here, people take G.E.D. classes. We also have helping classes on how to get the best buy out of food stamps or SNAP.” The acronym stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

DiCara added, “It is a safe and caring family setting.”

The tour paused so that Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone could issue a proclamation recognizing the contributions of Caruso and DiCara. Carbone cited the program for its “wraparound services.” ”You have my admiration,” Carbone added.

Hanan Selim commented that she had been a resident of the shelter in 2013 for two years. “I was from Egypt, and had just lost my mother, and had a five-year-old,” she said. “The program really helped me out. They have been like family.”

The rally culminated in a noonday free community pasta lunch and coat giveaway for about 150 at the Knights of Columbus headquarters at 152 Litchfield Street. DiCara and Cannavo addressed the crowd, as did State Rep. Michelle Cook, who encouraged residents to take advantage of her accessibility and ready ear. “I live right here,” Cook said. “This is my town, my family.”

As part of the event, the “Cardboard Box City Sleep-Out” was scheduled for Saturday evening. Confirmation Coordinator of Torrington’s Cluster of Roman Catholic Parishes Donna Puzacke commented during the luncheon that nine Confirmation students from the Cluster will sleep in cardboard boxes in front of St. Francis of Assisi Church at 160 Main Street in Torrington to empathize homelessness for youth.

“They are brave young teens,” said Puzacke. “It is supposed to flurry around 3 in the morning. But the weather will be overall mild. When we did it during a past year, it was 15 degrees.”

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Information from: The Register Citizen, https://www.registercitizen.com

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