MERIDEN — Like the nationally televised championship game from which its name is derived, the Souper Bowl is still taking place — albeit, with some new social distancing measures in place.
This year marks the fifth year of the Souper Bowl, a food donation drive sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Meriden that has also been a friendly competitive event for several city schools. The items and money collected during the Souper Bowl all benefit the Meriden Soup Kitchen.
Through the previous four Souper Bowls, the Kiwanis Club and participating schools had donated a cumulative total of 21,540 food items to the Meriden Soup Kitchen, along with $2,624, explained Brian Cofrancesco, service leadership programs chair for the Meriden Kiwanis Club.
Students and staff at four city schools — Platt and Maloney high schools, as well as Washington and Lincoln middle schools — began their annual collection of non-perishable food items for the Souper Bowl this past week and will continue until Feb. 6. This year’s event also features a contactless component, with blue bins for food drop-offs installed at 10 locations throughout the city.
Several of those drop-off bins are located at businesses owned by Kiwanis Club members, including the Solomon, Krupnikoff & Wyskiel law firm, at 636 Broad St. and Il Monticello Banquet Facility, at 577 S. Broad St.
Meriden Soup Kitchen President Jackie Zdeb explained during a video-conferenced Kiwanis Club meeting that despite the challenges posted by COVID-19, the kitchen’s mission is unchanged: “to feed the hungry of the greater Meriden area.”
The mission involves more paper goods, because the organization has shifted to providing takeout meals for clients, because of the pandemic. The kitchen relies on more than 100 volunteers, working in shifts, to carry out the daily mission.
“Serving the hungry… This is what we do every day,” Zdeb said.
Leaders have noticed a dropoff in the number of meals served because clients are not able to eat on site. The organization is still serving at least 110 to 115 meals during each weekday afternoon.
In 2019, the year before the pandemic, the soup kitchen had served 39,000 meals, Zdeb said.
Monetary donations are important for the organization, which has long operated on the First Baptist Church campus at 460 Broad St. Zdeb said the organization needs funds for paper supplies and to purchase equipment to hold food to temperatures required by the city health department.
The Kiwanis Club is also accepting monetary donations via its page on the mobile payment app Venmo, @KiwanisClub-Meriden. More information about this year’s Souper Bowl and a map of food drop-off locations can be found at http://www.meridenkiwanis.org/.
In past years’ events students have typically volunteered to stock shelves at the Meriden Soup Kitchen. Because of COVID, students will simply be dropping off the collections.
Students were also given a list of items needed. They include canned goods: vegetables, soup, tuna fish, beans and other items. The list also includes pasta, soup, instant mashed potatoes and other items.
Maureen DiPace, who advises the Key Club at Platt High School, noted the Souper Bowl is just one of several fundraisers and service projects students in the club have been involved with this school year. In addition to collecting food items at school, the Platt Key Club is also partnering with local businesses, C-Town and Casa Di Roma restaurant in South Meriden, to host community drives to benefit the Souper Bowl.