On Sunday, August 20, "Comedy at the Castle" can raise some seriously needed funds to help over 425 residents who rely on Food Pantry of North Branford (FPNB) every month.
"We're very fortunate in North Branford to have a lot of community support, but donations are low in the summertime. Unfortunately, hunger doesn't take a vacation," said Pantry Director Fran Murphy. "We currently are helping about 167 families, or 426 people per month."
That's where Comedy at the Castle comes in. Organized by FPNB co-founder and Matt's Mission founder Lynn Riordian, all proceeds from the fantastic night of fun at Bill Miller's Castle will benefit FPNB.
"Lynn really puts her heart into everything she does," said Murphy. "The comedy night is one of our two top annual fundraising events," together with a written annual appeal mailed to residents.
Billed as "Funny4Funds: Comedy at the Castle," the show will feature three comedians from Treehouse Comedy Productions as well as raffle prizes, 50/50 raffle, and live auction with many prizes generously donated by local merchants, businesses and individuals. The adults' night out also includes a live DJ and cash bar. Guests are encouraged to bring along their best cocktail party nibbles and other treats to eat at the show.
FPNB began operating in June 2015 and serves North Branford residents out of its space at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Northford. The mission, as always, is to assist any North Branford resident in need, with only proof of residency required to take away grocery staples and other needed items available on the shelves, said Murphy. That's very different from programs offered in many other towns, she noted.
"There is no financial disclosure required," said Murphy. "If we had to have them go through financial qualifications, like other towns, a lot of them would probably be denied."
That especially goes for those who fall just above the minimum earning requirement to receive benefits such as state/federally assisted free or reduced public school student meals and home energy assistance.
"Many are denied free and reduced meals or energy assistance because they make $10 or $15 too much. We hear stories, every day -- 'I went for energy assistance, but my husband makes $52 too much, so we can't get any.' So we're helping a lot of people who are in that grey area," Murphy said.
Murphy added the majority of those being assisted through FPNB are "young, working families," and among them are certainly those who do qualify for free or reduced student school breakfast and lunch. For those families, summer is an expensive time of year.
"For each child, you have to come up with 100 extra meals over the summer," said Murphy. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to go with the theme of 'Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation," for summer food drive efforts.
A recent successful effort took place at North Branford Big Y in July. It was the first food drive event ever allowed at the store, and drove in 1880 pounds of food for FPNB, said Murphy. That food is now nearly all gone, she added. Murphy wants to thank Big Y as well as another local business, Cecarelli Farms of Northford, for being two reliable sources which have helped keep some welcome items in steady supply this summer.
"This time of year, people are really enjoying the fresh fruit and produce. A truck from Cecarelli Farms comes every Friday, filled with fresh produce for us," she said. "We also get produce from Big Y on Wednesdays and Fridays; and every Friday, we get between 150 to 200 pounds of bread and pastries and muffins from Big Y. They've been extremely generous."
Another welcome boon to FBNP this summer came thanks to Perdue Chicken, which selected FPNB as the non-profit local group to be the recipient of its local community-giving campaign during the 2017 Potato and Corn (PoCo) Festival. This year was Perdue's first time participating as a PoCo food vendor. The company donated 100 percent of all proceeds generated by the Perdue Mobile Food Unit during the August 4 – 6 event. The donation came as a welcome surprise, and there was even an added bonus, said Murphy.
"I just got a confirmation phone call from them [Aug. 11], they raised $1900 for the pantry," said Murphy. "I also went to see them at the festival on Sunday and introduced myself and met Chef John [Coombs], and when I came back at 5 p.m. they had 320 pounds of chicken in ten-pound bags they gave to us. We have families of seven, eight and nine people coming in; so it was wonderful to have ten-pound bags of chicken to give them."
Such one-time special donations are greatly appreciated, but because FPNB needs to constantly stock its shelves, consistent donations from the community are a must. While FBNP also receives weekly free or deeply discounted food from Connecticut Food Bank, "... we get what they get -- so if they don't get a lot of donations, we don't get a large order that week," noted Murphy.
Another reason contributions of funds such as those raised by Comedy at the Castle are so vital is that the money allows the pantry to purchase specific food and provisions, said Murphy.
"I go to the stores and hit the sales, and buy what people want," she said.
Right now, Murphy added, "...we can use pretty much anything. Donations are few and far between in the summertime, so any shelf-stable, non-perishable food is welcome."
And, of course, Murphy hopes the community will turn out to support FBNB at "Funny4Funds: Comedy Night at the Castle" on August 20.
"It's a great event, where people can have a lot of fun and support a worthy cause at the same time," said Murphy.
Doors at Bill Miller's Castle, 834 East Main St. in Branford, will open at 5:30 p.m. for the Sunday, August 20 evening, with comedians taking the stage beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets, $25, are available in advance by contacting Lynn Riordan at (203) 506-7577 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Food donations from individuals, groups and organizations are always welcome and can be donated at FPNB during operating hours each Wednesday from 4 to 6:30 p.m., Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, (rear entrance) 1382 Middletown Ave., Northford. For more information find The Food Pantry of North Branford on Facebook. To make a tax-deductible donation anytime, mail checks to Food Pantry of North Branford, P.O. Box 403, North Branford CT 06471.