Sister Theresa Fonti and Sister Maureen Faenza founded Hartford’s House of Bread nearly four decades ago. Back in 1980 the duo had empty pockets but brave hearts as they set out with a coffee pot and day-old doughnuts to help feed the hungry. Today and millions of meals later, the House of Bread is a powerhouse of support for Hartford’s poorest residents.
Yes, they still feed the hungry, but their reach has vastly surpassed that. They see themselves as in the people business, not just the food business, so they are constantly finding ways to add new services that help their clients fill their stomachs and move forward in life.
The food operation on its own is impressive to behold. Their Chestnut St. kitchen would spark the envy of many a restauranteur — not only spacious and well-equipped — it’s also capable of preparing nearly 2,000 meals weekly, which its army of 100 volunteers then dish up.
Some of what’s served is for walk-in clients seeking breakfast or lunch. At the same time those guests are dining, a second operation is underway — preparing another 600 hot dinners for school children at nine Hartford locations. The day we visited, steak was on the menu!
While we’re still talking food, there’s even more going on, including food-waste composting, diversion of food unsuitable for humans to farm animals, and bottling of their signature pasta sauce for sale at several locations. (Get yours at ShopRite in West Hartford, Highland Park Market or Jilly Bean’s Farm Stand in Farmington, or Oliver’s Supermarket in Waterbury.)
Need a place to stay? House of Bread operates a day shelter where walk-ins can take a shower, do laundry, or meet with a nurse, social worker or psychiatrist. That’s just for starters. House of Bread can accommodate those reestablishing their lives in transitional housing, and operates 27 units of affordable housing in a city where it’s badly needed.
Want to get ahead? House offers GED tutoring for single moms along with daycare for their children, as well as intense culinary training from a professional chef, paired with job-placement services.
House even sponsors bi-weekly mentoring for Hartford-area children through its Adventure Saturdays. Adults build relationships with their mentees all while visiting local attractions that the children would not otherwise be exposed to.
Did we mention English as a Second language tutoring, refugee assistance, and a thrift shop?
While they had no idea what was ahead when they ventured out with that first pot of coffee, the Sisters have stepped up every time a new need arose and answered the call.
In recognition of their lives devoted to serving others, Sister Theresa and Sister Maureen were honored as “Wonder Women” by Greater Hartford’s House of Malta. In presenting the award the House of Malta’s Executive Director said, “We are proud to bask in their shadows!” To which we say, Amen.