Brigaid has created a new tradition here in New London, CT. Every Wednesday night, hundreds of people from New London and nearby towns gather inside the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School cafeteria. For five dollars, anyone can come eat a meal executed by professional chefs, including one who used to be the head chef at the world’s best restaurant, Noma. That is, before the food runs out after 300-350 servings.
But the most important part of these weekly community dinners might be something other than the food itself; it may be the sense of community the dinners help sustain and grow.
An idea that has been in founder Dan Giusti’s mind since the inception of Brigaid, these community dinners offer an opportunity for the residents in and out of New London to gather on a weekly basis, meet new people, and break bread together. As you walk into the cafeteria, you see Sam Wilson, the New London School District’s Food Services Director, seated at a table selling tickets for the meal. On the table, you see a plate of the night’s dinner. And then, one simply returns to school.
The process of picking up your meal is exactly the one that hundreds of Bennie Dover students go through every day. You get in line (in this case, you can choose between a dine-in and a take-out line), pick up a tray, and move along the line outside of the kitchen to pick up your food. And that’s it. Once you pick up your food, you move to the cafeteria and sit down and enjoy the meal.
As the meals have grown in prominence, Brigaid started noticing a trend. People were donating tickets. Meaning, a family of three would buy five tickets and donate the two extra tickets to those who couldn’t afford it otherwise. This meant kids (often students after basketball practice) and those who usually got their weekly supply of food from the food pantry or shelters could participate and eat an incredible meal. Brigaid has also stepped up to partner with local food pantries to give out free meal vouchers. More, what started as a purely local New London event has started attracting regulars from towns all over the area.
New London locals, Margaret Palmer and Lester French, joined Brigaid for the first time on February 1st, and talked about how much they appreciated that the meals were a real “community effort” and planned on becoming regulars to these dinners. Importantly, Palmer and French did not know about the full Brigaid story before the meal, but after talking to some of Brigaid’s staff, they loved the mission and were excited to spread the word. And one loyal customer that you can always find is New London City Council President Anthony Nolan. Now, every Wednesday, Nolan can be seen unassumingly washing dishes in the kitchen, just trying to pitch in for the effort.
Katie Young, a former co-worker of Brigaid chef Ryan Kennedy, has also made it her weekly routine to attend the dinners and bring more people from her nearby East Lyme community to the meals. Anytime you talk to Young about Brigaid, she gushes about Brigaid’s endeavor.
New London has always had a certain feel about it, a sense of pride. New London residents will tell you that there’s something special about this town. And now, one can see that there’s also something special happening in this town. New London’s population is growing; its economy rising. The peak whaling days might be tougher to find, but there’s something else great happening here in New London. And Brigaid is honored to be a part of it.