April 2023 News

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Celebrating Our "Lifesavers": Our Volunteers

In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 16 through April 22), as a proud Points of Light affiliate, and also "just because", we are happy to give a HUGE thanks to ALL of our dedicated volunteers! Without them, we wouldn't be able to support so many of our neighbors and vital programs!


Volunteers have been, and continue to be, the lifeblood of our organization. Hands On Hartford was originally formed back in the 1960’s by a group of 8 downtown Hartford churches who shared a common mission of both wanting to help people in need and looking for ways to help their congregations become more engaged. They formed an organization called “Center City Churches” and first focused on services for seniors, children and adults experiencing homelessness or chronic illness, and then expanded their focus over the years. In 2007, Center City Churches became an affiliate of the "HandsOn Network", which is now Points of Light Global Network, a group that focuses on volunteerism and community engagement to create change in our world. It was then that we changed our name to "Hands On Hartford" and the commitment to actively engage volunteers, in and for the community, was strengthened and further expanded.

Individuals and families, along with faith communities, schools, youth groups, young professional groups, small businesses and corporate groups, all contribute their loving energy to our programs day after day. In 2022, nearly 1,000 volunteers contributed close to 11,000 hours of hard work in a variety of service areas here at Hands On Hartford and approximately 400 of these volunteers were brand new to HOH! Amazing!


Our volunteers help us thrive in a variety of ways: from giving of their time and compassionate energy in our daytime Gather55 program (greeting guests, serving hundreds of meals each week, bussing tables, washing dishes and assisting in the kitchen) to providing ample support in our MANNA community food pantry (counting and weighing donations each day, sorting and stocking shelves and shopping with 650+ pantry clients each month), to sorting and stuffing 225 backpacks a week with food and school supplies for our kids Backpack Nutrition Program, to preparing meals and baked goods for both our free Monday night community dinners and for our housing tenants, to assisting in our garden (planning, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting and giving it TLC), to providing administrative support, to helping with service projects at HOH and throughout Hartford, and finally, to supporting our Community Holiday Meal programs, Toy Shoppe Program, Turkey Distribution day, the Walk Against Hunger and Hands & Hearts Together gala. We truly appreciate and commend all of our volunteers' exceptional service to HOH and our community.

So why do volunteers volunteer? There are so many benefits of volunteering, from feeling a sense of purpose and connection to one's community, to meeting new friends and increasing one's self-confidence, to reducing stress and keeping active, to contributing a talent or learning a new skill and to providing job prospects and getting oneself outside one's comfort zone. Volunteering can also give one a sense of confidence and identity. Though each volunteer's specific reasons for volunteering may vary, what we've heard are a few common themes: love for our community, a calling to "give back", an enjoyment of socialization and a belief in our mission/in helping to uphold the dignity of those we serve.


Clearly, our volunteers truly are our lifesavers. We are so grateful for their hard work, genuine compassion, generosity of time and spirit and their heartfelt dedication to serving our community. Happy National Volunteer Week again to all of our amazing volunteers! We love and appreciate you all!


If you haven't already, please check out the volunteer spotlights we shared on our social media pages HERE (Facebook) or HERE (Instagram). Our volunteers deserve the recognition!


And please note, we'll be celebrating all of their contributions in June right here at Hands On Hartford (the first time, in-person, since the pandemic).

Our volunteers support our work in a variety of ways. They can lend just a few hours of their time occasionally or can provide more ongoing support. 

If interested in volunteering or learning more, please send us a quick email at

volunteering@handsonhartford.org or

call Nicole at 860-706-1522.

Still in Need of Walkers & Sponsors for the Walk!

(and Donors too)

Please join us on Saturday, May 20 for this year’s CT Foodshare Walk Against Hunger! Our goal this year is to raise $50,000 to support our food programs and we're still a ways away from reaching our goal.

We are looking for folks to sign up for the Walk, ask for donations of any size from your networks, and come together in a joint effort to fight hunger and food insecurity in our community. Even if you are unable to participate on Walk day, we are also looking for donors to contribute to our team, whether as an individual or as a sponsor.

100% of the funds we raise in the Walk this year will support folks who rely on our community food pantry and children who participate in our Backpack Nutrition Program. You can register HERE and click on "Join Team" or "Make a Donation".

(Where asked, please be sure to select Hands On Hartford as your benefiting partner).

Faith In Action

In honor of Ramadan, our friends at the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut (MCCT) hosted a halal grocery distribution day for the Muslim families who rely on our halal food pantry. They distributed 114 boxes, generously provided by the Islamic Relief USA, to dozens of families in need from across the state. MCCT also generously donates funds each month to further support our halal pantry, the only one of its kind in the area. We are so grateful for this partnership and support!

Please Welcome Our New HOH Staff Team Members!

Angelic Smith,

Host (evening), Gather55

Deo Niyonkuru,

Tenant Assistant

David Beskind,

Greeter (day), Gather55

Prepping for a Bountiful Harvest

It's Springtime and that means our Garden Committee is planning and prepping the garden beds for our first official planting day of the season with our generous garden Sponsor, CGI!

We have big plans to make our garden more lovely and abundant than ever, enlisting the leadership of HOH staff Nat, in addition to the help of our new friend, Marie Lipski, an Advanced Master Gardener who is donating her time, ample knowledge and joyful enthusiasm to help us with our strategic planning. We are also blessed to have a small, but dedicated group of volunteers, tenants and staff who will continue to tend our garden with hard work and TLC, as many have been doing since 2016.

We plan to grow a variety of edible flowers, herbs and produce that will be made available for a variety of uses including food for our tenants, pantry, and Gather55 kitchen as well as floral décor for our tables in Gather55. Stay tuned for the evolution! 2 green thumbs up! (Aerial photo, above, courtesy of Brandon Gervickas)

Gather55 Dinner Update: We Welcome 2 Talented Chefs!

We are so grateful to have yet another dynamic duo of talent adding some magic to our Gather55 dinner menu starting Wednesday, May 3!

We are honored to welcome the talented Chef Scott Miller, Partner and COO of Doro Restaurant Group, and Chef Louis (Lou) Fiore, Executive Chef of Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen in West Hartford, who are both excited to contribute their talents to Gather55 for a great cause. Added to our May menu are a delicious Zohara market hummus with house made pita, a Branzino filet with fava bean puree, an herb-tomato gremolata and, for dessert, Malabi (Middle Eastern "custard") with strawberries, mint, pistachio and rosewater.

Bonus news- select dishes by Chefs Tyler Anderson, Prasad Chirnomula, Billy Grant, Emily Mingrone, Ashley Flagg and Kristin Eddy are also still available on our May menu. You can make reservations on Open Table or through the Gather55 website: www.gather55.com.


Doro Restaurant Group


Raised in Woodbridge, CT, Scott Miller worked his way through the kitchens of some of CT’s finest restaurants. After spending time cooking in Colorado as the Chef of McCormick’s Fish House & Bar and The Millennium Resort in Boulder, Miller headed back to his home state of CT in 2004 where he was hired as Executive Chef at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford. In this role, Miller was responsible for overseeing menu development as well as the culinary team, which included then Sous Chefs Dorjan Puka and David Sudol. Also while in this role, Miller started the award winning Max’s Chef-to-Farm program in 2009.

Capitalizing on his ability to create unique and memorable experiences, Miller accepted the role of Managing Partner of Max Catering & Events where he worked alongside chefs, managers and staff to localize catering fare, delivering outstanding events to their guests.


In 2015, Miller partnered with Dorjan Puka combining their experience, expertise, and vision to form Doro Restaurant Group. Together, they opened distinct restaurants across Connecticut. As Chief Operating Officer and Partner of DORO Restaurant Group, Miller works hand-in-hand with all employees and managers to ensure that each guest is provided with exceptional hospitality.


Some of Millers’ favorite accomplishments are rapping on stage with The Sugarhill Gang, Winning multiple awards from his peers in The CT Restaurant Association including Best Chef, Best Caterer and Best Restaurateur, as well as training many dishwashers and cooks that have gone on to be great Chefs & Restaurateurs.

LOU FIORE, Executive Chef

Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen

Chef Lou Fiore began working in restaurants in high school as a dishwasher at Anna's on Main in South Glastonbury before working his way up to garde manger (pantry chef) and every station in between. He has worked in the restaurant industry as a BOH jack-of-all-trades over the past fifteen years, most recently at El Pollo Guapo and Mercado Food Truck prior to making his home at Zohara. Chef Lou loved travelling to Rome in Italy, says his favorite thing to both eat and cook is pizza, and detests disorganization.  

Join us for our free Memorial Day Community Meal!

Gathering More Support!

Our friends and non-profit neighbors, The RiseUP Group/RiseUP for Arts, are hosting an epic immersive art event called "ART maniFESTation: Exploring the Power of Public Art, Creativity, and Culture" on Saturday, May 13, 2023 from 12pm-11pm at both 50 Bartholomew Ave (across the street) and right here at 55 Bartholomew Ave.

Discover the works of your favorite artists, craftspeople, and artisans as they showcase their talents and sell their pieces at the ART Festival. The festival also features a jam-packed schedule of family-friendly activities and musical performances from some of CT's top talent. Tickets are also available for a "Celebrity Chef Dinner" at Gather55 between 6-8pm that evening.

For more info or to purchase tickets for the Celebrity Chef Dinner, click HERE.

(Then click "Register for Event" and then click "Get Tickets")

A Call To Action

We are so grateful to everyone who has donated breakfast items and canned fruit for the pantry over the last several weeks - you are all making a huge difference. With over 650 families visiting the pantry each month, the food seems to fly off the shelves. Please keep breakfast items and canned fruit coming...as well as red pasta sauce!

The other items that are really helpful are regular-sized toiletry items - shampoo, body wash, conditioner, etc. Many of our pantry families rely on SNAP (food stamps) but SNAP can only be used for food. If you see a great sale on any toiletry items, we hope you'll purchase some to donate here.

Easter Community Holiday Meal Recap

April 9th was a beautiful day here at Hands On Hartford, not just because of the sunny weather, but because of our wonderful community Easter holiday meal.

We shared in so much fun and joy with 270 guests, all of who enjoyed a delicious meal of herb-roasted pork loin, roasted potatoes, honey-glazed carrots, bread & butter, and pineapple cake created by our talented chefs.

74 of these smiling faces who attended were children- all of who took home an Easter basket and whose parents received care packages.

We are grateful to the many staff and volunteers who donated their time, energy and warmth to making this one of our best holiday gatherings yet!

Thanks to our Sponsor, AeroMed® Technologies, for supporting this event!

Amazing Gifts and New Introductions

How amazing is this month's flower arrangement in Gather55?!

We are so fortunate to have our ongoing volunteer and dear friend, Linda Wayman, create a part of the magic in Gather55. Linda happens to have a talent for arranging flowers (and making delicious soups, but we digress)!

Linda volunteers her time each month arranging flowers for the tables and back counter to help add that touch of elegance, romance and sophistication to our restaurant. Our guests and staff always appreciate the added beauty she lends to our space. The most amazing part is that she doesn't even have a background in floral design. We definitely lucked out! Thanks to Linda for all of her care, dedication and great artist's eye!

Jaida Foster saves the day again! This star Bloomfield High School student saw our call for help with stocking our pantry with breakfast items and facilitated this generous donation of 460 pounds of pancake mix, syrup and more! J aida has also coordinated several other drives in the past, collecting a total of about 3,500lbs of food over the last year and a half, plus dozens of toys and gift cards for our Toy Shoppe event. We know this young woman, with such a big heart, has already made a big impact on our community and we can't wait to see what the future brings!

Check out our MANNA Community Food Pantry upgrade! These 3 beautiful refrigerator units, and accompanying freezer, were made possible by a recent Community Impact Grant from Connecticut Foodshare.

We’re so grateful to now have these brand new units to showcase all the fresh food, frozen meat and other items we have available in our pantry, and to move our pantry one step closer to feeling like a true grocery shopping experience (of course still being free of charge to the families who visit us).

And we’re so grateful to have CT Foodshare’s partnership and support in caring for our community this way.

Another awesome kid all-star is giving back to Hands On Hartford! Our new friend, Myra, answered the call to help stock our community food pantry shelves by donating a generous 69 pounds of breakfast food, including hot and cold cereal, pancake mix, syrup and cans of fruit. Thank you to Myra for her warm and generous heart and awesome leadership! We're inspired!

Our new friends at Stone Soup Café in Greenfield, MA paid us a visit earlier this month to check out our contribution café, Gather55, and to take a tour and learn about all the services HOH provides to the community. Stone Soup Café is a pay-what-you-can café feeding Franklin County delicious and healthy food every Saturday at noon. Since they have a similar restaurant model and are looking to move into a bigger space, they walked away with some very insightful ideas to help them grow and evolve their model. We loved sharing and connecting with these wonderful change-makers!

Honor the Mother/Mother Figure in Your Life

Mother's Day is coming up on May 14th, just a couple weeks away!

Does your Mom consider herself a foodie? Or does she have an adventurous palette that would appreciate a choice of eclectic cultural dishes created by top area chefs? Or perhaps she enjoys fine-dining in a beautiful setting for a great cause? Or maybe she works in the Hartford area and likes to grab a quick lunch out, closeby?

Give her the gift that "gives right back" by purchasing a gift card to Gather55! And if you're feeling truly inspired, make a reservation here to share an amazing meal with her the Friday night before Mother's Day, 5/12 (note, we have a special event on 5/13 -see earlier ArtMANIFESTation blurb- and are closed on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 14).

Hands On Hartford is Hiring!

Hands On Hartford staff are dedicated, caring, and hardworking people who like to have fun while making a difference in our community. With great benefits, staff recognition and support, we value teamwork, compassion and community. 

Check out these open positions and help us spread the word:

Find out more about these positions and how to apply HERE.

About Hands On Hartford

Hands On Hartford, in partnership with others, strengthens community in Hartford by responding faithfully to people in need through programs that change lives and renew human possibility.

We are committed to increasing food security and nutrition, improving health and providing housing while we engage volunteers and connect communities.

How Can I Help?

Make a donation! You will be part of a network of donors, volunteers and staff who work together to provide food, housing and related services for families who are struggling to make ends meet. To make a financial donation, visit our website at www.handsonhartford.org and click “Make a Donation Now,” or mail your check to Hands On Hartford, 55 Bartholomew Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106.

Or contact Kate Shafer at kshafer@handsonhartford.org for more in-kind donation ideas.

Request a matching donation from your employer! Many employers will match all or part of your donation - a great way to double your impact.

Leave a legacy. Ensure your long term impact on this community by including us in your estate plan, making qualified charitable distributions from your IRA, gifts of appreciated stock, or include us as a contingent beneficiary of your life insurance. Contact Executive Director Barbara Shaw to explore planned giving ideas and to join our Legacy Society. bshaw@handsonhartford.org or 860- 706-1502.

We are grateful for our community and the love, caring, compassion and support we see every day.

On Hartford, a Points of Light affiliate

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