Photograph Melani Lust
Building One Community, New Covenant Center, The Stamford Food Collaborative, Person- to-Person, Trinity Church in Greenwich, Food Rescue US
“We’ve been blessed with good health and reasonably prosperous lives,” says Bruce Koe. “We decided that in retirement we would dedicate ourselves to giving back. Our passions are for immigrants, feeding the hungry, and women in engineering.”
Bruce zeroed in on immigrants, as they make up 38 percent of the population in Stamford and because he “realized through experience that these folks are interested in making a livelihood here, not looking for handouts. They work hard, have great pride and integrity, and are willing to make any sacrifices necessary to ensure their kids get a good education.”
Linda adds, “Part of our inspiration comes from our church [Trinity Church]. We really feel that we’re called to help those in need. The Bible says ‘feed my sheep’ and I guess I’m trying to do that, one can of corn at a time!”
Courage into Action
Linda has been involved with the New Covenant Center for a decade. “It’s the only soup kitchen in lower Fairfield County,” she explains. After chairing some fundraising events, Linda and her friend Moira Colangelo launched Harvest Table, a ladies lunch fundraiser. “We had 100 women the first year,” says Linda. “Now, in our seventh year, our goal is 400 and we hope to raise $100,000.”
Bruce began by forming a social outreach group with men at Trinity Church. “Twenty of us did monthly projects in social justice,” he says. Bruce is also a founding board member of Building One Community (formerly Neighbors Link), which in six years has gone from a budget of $185,000 to $1,471,000. “We have registered over 7,000 immigrants,” he says. The organization offers ESL classes, with 400 volunteer teachers; a job hiring site —4,000 day jobs were filled last year; computer classes; as well as culinary and home care aid programs.
Together the Koes spearheaded a food rescue program with Community Plates in Norwalk—now Food Rescue US—so that food that would otherwise go to waste at grocery stores instead feeds the hungry.
Hopes & Dreams
“My passion in the future is to see this great cause of providing low-cost meals to people in need spread to other cities. We are working with Food Rescue US on a program in Chicago now,” says Bruce.
“When I look to the future in Stamford,” Linda says, “I hope we can improve access to food as well as the quality and sustainability of food.” Linda is also optimistic about helping Person-to-Person launch a mobile food pantry. “Instead of people having to come to an agency, we can take the pantry to where the people in need are.”
Catalina Horak, executive director of Building One Community, adds, “The Koes’ genuine and engaging approach to community involvement extends beyond their time and very generous financial contributions. Their passionate desire to work to make change, to create a more vibrant community for all, is infectious.”