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Hands On Hartford celebrated its 50th anniversary on October 24, 2019. The Hartford-based organization maintains its mission of helping people in the areas of food and housing and health support and continues to provide new programming and initiatives to meet the community’s needs.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager met with Hands On Hartford Executive Director Barbara Shaw and Development & Communications Manager Kate Shafer to learn about how the Hartford community can become involved with giving initiatives during in the holiday season and beyond.

NAN PRICE: First of all, congratulations on your 50th anniversary!

BARBARA SHAW: Thank you! Celebrating our 50th year has meant reflecting on how far we’ve come and honoring and celebrating five decades of service to the low-income community. More importantly, we’re looking at what we’ll we be doing for the next 50 years. How do we create more impactful service to the community? How do we do an even better job connecting communities and engaging volunteers to make change in this world?

NAN: The holidays are right around the corner, which is always a great time to engage volunteers and give back in the community. How can people get involved?

BARBARA Hands On Hartford provides meals for all the holidays throughout the year. On Thanksgiving day, we’ll host a meal at Christ Church Cathedral’s parish house on Church Street in Hartford.

chopping 1-30-17 fiveOur volunteer opportunities are full Thanksgiving day, but we do have volunteer opportunities for Christmas and New Year’s Day and we’re always looking for the community to consider getting involved by helping to fund the cost of these special holiday meals.

We’re excited to host our annual Toy Shoppe and holiday party for the families we serve on December 19. We’ve been doing that in partnership with Avon Old Farms School and other groups for the last 27 years. It’s such a fun event with music, games, food and treats—and a visit from Santa. We’re still looking for sponsors for that event to help with some of the expenses and would love to see more of the community get involved.

NAN: There are many opportunities for the community get involved beyond the holidays, too. Can you tell us about some of the newer initiatives?

KATE SHAFER: Sure. As we looked back over the past 50 years, we saw the wide range of different programs we offered to respond to the community’s needs and we’ve created some new initiatives to better serve people who are living in extreme poverty and help with community building.

One of our big goals over the last couple of years has been improving health. Since we last talked to you in 2017, we started an initiative called Kitchen to Pantry , which reduces food waste and provides access to healthy produce for pantry families. Volunteers help clean, chop, and package fresh produce to be distributed in our pantry. Some of this produce comes from Foodshare and some is donated by local gardeners and farmers.

Forming a partnership with the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut enabled us to start offering Halal meat through the pantry because we want to make sure people can access culturally, religiously aligned food from us.

We’ve also expanded the hours at our MANNA Community Meals and Day Program and we now have a full-time social worker who meets with people to help get them onto the path toward finding shelter and eventually permanent housing. That’s been a real benefit because many people aren’t able to get the kind of one-on-one assistance they need to become more stable.

We’ve gotten vital support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to make that happen and are thankful to Christ Church Cathedral, which has provided space for the last 40 years. There are plenty of opportunities for folks to provide meals (and of course financial support) and volunteer to prep, serve, and visit with guests at that program.

BARBARA: I’ll talk about our Hands On Hartford ventures, which are our mission-centric businesses. The Café at Fifty-Five was the first one. It’s been open three years now and provides jobs, volunteer opportunities, and a wonderful gathering space for the community. From that, we formed a catering company called Caterers Who Care, which is also aligned with our organizational vision of engaging people in taking next steps in their lives with jobs and volunteer opportunities. It also provides delicious food for customers at the right price point.

KATE: With these ventures, all the income helps pay for our charitable programs. Everything we do here relies on donations. It’s challenging to predict when they come in and at what amount, so having a steady income stream helps even out that flow and helps with planning our services throughout the year.

Chantal Thomas Amazing AckeeBARBARA: Another of our initiatives is through our licensed commercial kitchen, which is nicely sized and well-appointed. We’ve been able to share it with culinary businesses, often startups although not exclusively, who need licensed commercial kitchen space to operate lawfully and safely in Connecticut. Our kitchen is available 24/7 to our 34 members. They’re a variety of small businesses—food truck and food cart owners, caterers, bakers, small-scale manufacturers, and the urban farmers in Hartford who produce their value-added products here.

NAN: Does Hands on Hartford collaborate with other organizations?

BARBARA: Yes. We formed The Culinary Collaborative with Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, Forge City WorksKnoxParkville Market, reSET,  and Swift Factory to help culinary businesses launch, test their products, grow their businesses, and create more jobs. Working together, we’re obviously able to be much more effective.

Learn more about Hands On Hartford

READ: Hands On Hartford: Strengthening The Community In Hartford
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