by Jon Persson
“Good morning and welcome to breakfast!” These words, delivered with indefatigable gusto by a smiling Deacon Kent Sistare, greet a new day’s congregation of the hungry to New London Breakfasts. The program, in its seventh year, serves hot and cold breakfast weekday mornings to people who have found they have run out of options for a morning meal. The need, ever-present, grows over time and crests at the end of every fiscal month.
For the people who stream into the Parish Hall of New London’s First Congregational Church, breakfast is a smoothly choreographed ritual where hot food is served cafeteria style, with coffee and cold cereal laid out on long tables. Monday through Friday the doors open at 7 a.m., and for a bustling half hour meals are served up in an assembly line of precision movements. Organized queues form and are criss-crossed in all directions by people with plates and cups going to and from their selected seats. There is familiarity on all sides of the process; people know each other by name in a social setting complete with newly made acquaintances.
In just 30 minutes breakfast is over and the cleanup begins. But for the people behind the scenes and the serving counter, New London Breakfasts is a commitment to a routine which begins around 5 a.m. on their appointed days to serve. The daily sign-in sheet lists a Cook-In-Charge—often by just a first name: Kent, Al, Liz, Jim, Bill, Diane—and the volunteers who help out for different blocks of time. The crews who divide up responsibility throughout the week are often local business owners, citizens of the community, patrons of the breakfast (some of whom may reside at area homeless shelters), and cadets from the Coast Guard Academy. And there is Deacon Kent, always the center of cheerful calm amidst the bustle of the breakfasttime.
A helping hand now benefits the community over time, as normalcy slowly returns to an economy which leaves people momentarily at a loss for where their next meal would otherwise come from.