At the Darien Community Association on Tuesday afternoon, there was a packed room of people who shared something in common: They have all contributed to the betterment of their community.
They were being honored at the 40th Annual Darien Volunteer Recognition Day Luncheon.
The event, which had representatives from over 50 area nonprofits and honored 31 nominated guests, was hosted by The Community Fund of Darien and the Darien Community Association.
Those being honored spanned all age groups — from teens at Youth Asset, a student-run branch of The Community Fund of Darien, to 93-year-old Pat Parlette — who has volunteered at the Darien Community Association Thrift Shop for over 25 years, to every age in between.
Organizations the volunteers serve include ABC-A Better Chance, At Home in Darien, the Darien Arts Center, the Darien Book Aid Plan, and the Darien Depot Youth Center.
Other groups are Person-to-Person, the Tokeneke PTO, Darien TV79, the Darien YMCA, the Mather Homestead Foundation, and the Darien Historical Society.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, as well as Selectmen Marc Thorne and Susan Marks, attended the event.
“We are so grateful for everything that all of you do every single day to make this community as incredible as it is, and each and every year, I’m just astounded by the level of volunteerism and the contributions that you and your organizations make to bettering the town of Darien,” Stevenson said to all the guests. “The Community Fund of Darien is the leadership organization that improves the lives of our neighbors in need in Darien, Norwalk and Stamford by investing wisely in human service agencies and community initiatives.”
For 40 years, the annual Darien Volunteer Recognition Day Luncheon “has honored outstanding members of our community who give their time, talents, and resources to make a difference in the lives of others,” Stevenson added.
While guests ate a buffet lunch, each of the volunteers were called up to the stage where a detailed description of their volunteering efforts was read out loud.
Stamford couple Linda and Bruce Koe were the guest speakers at the luncheon.
The couple spend their vacations on road trips driving around the United States to visit food banks and food pantries to see how they can help improve food distribution more locally.
Bruce Koe said he wanted to use the strategic management skills he learned in business to give back to those in need.
The couple started a group at their church called Loaves and Fishes, “to get our congregation more involved in helping to alleviate food insecurity,” Bruce Koe said.
He also got involved with Building One Community, a Stamford nonprofit that has helped more than 9,400 immigrants from more than 43 countries improve their lives.
Bruce Koe works with a group called Food Rescue, which picks up excess food from restaurants, corporate cafeterias, and grocery stores, and delivers them directly to agencies “that need it,” he said.
“Our volunteers rescue 600,000 meals a month,” he said. Food Rescue “now operates across the country and can be found in 17 states. It will deliver $8 million worth of food this year.”
Linda Koe said she became “passionate” about alleviating food insecurity once she realized how “prevalent it was right here in Fairfield County — one of the richest [places] in America,” she said. “How can more than 100,000 people in our area be suffering from food insecurity? How can 14% of our children be unsure about where their next meal is coming from?”
“Hunger lives right here,” she said.
She has cooked and served dinner at New Covenant Center’s soup kitchen in Stamford, “and I watched as the men and women and children lined up for a meal — and we were able to serve them.”
She said that while working at the food pantry, she realized how many families needed help. “Most of them were not homeless,” she said. “Most of them had a job.”
Linda Koe also helped create a mobile food pantry to enable those who don’t have transportation to get food.
In addition, she helped bring dozens of agencies together in Stamford that are focused on feeding the hungry.
Lina Koe ended her talk by saying that it can be hard to “be with those that are struggling or in need.”
“It takes a lot of hard work and there is often a lot of disappointments along the way. …But if helping people were easy, everyone would be doing it.”