NEW BRITAIN — Michael Larochelle admitted that the arroz con gandules and pernil dished up by the Puerto Rican Society of New Britain Saturday would likely be his only holiday meal and he was savoring every bite.
“It’s good! It’s the best,” Larochelle announced between mouthfuls. “A lot of times people don’t care about the homeless or the hungry, but these people showed they do care. I was here for Thanksgiving too. They should do this every year.”
For the first time in close to 20 years the society decided to serve holiday meals to the homeless or less fortunate in the city in the hopes of giving to the community, said former president Isabel Rosa.
“It’s a hot plate for people who wouldn’t have one,” Rosa said. “We want everyone out there to know that we just don’t come here to drink and play dominos, we’re here to serve the community.”
The dinner was open Saturday to anyone who wanted a hot meal in the hours before a major snowstorm was predicted. When the doors to the society’s club house on High Street opened at about 12 p.m., close to two dozen men filed in to fill their plates with traditional Puerto Rican food and all the trimmings of a great meal.
Newly elected City Council member Willie Pabon dished up pernil (roast pork) alongside the arroz con gandules (rice with peas). Chicken, baked ziti, salad and rice pudding — another traditional holiday dish in Puerto Rico — along with cookies and cake were also on the menu.
The food was donated and cooked by the 100-member club. Poinsettia plants served as centerpieces and each diner receive a small package with staples like soap and deodorant. The society also handed out donations of coats, hats and gloves.
“We made up about 100 bags,” said society member Maria Torres. “We collected items and donated some ourselves. Our kids and family and friends helped with the donations too.”
The group also served up Thanksgiving dinner to about 100 to 150 guests and is staging a toy drive for Three Kings Day which falls on Jan. 10 this year. Anyone who would like to donate toys for children from newborn to 10 years old can contact Rosa at (860) 827-8808.
The last time the society served meals to the less fortunate was in the 1990s when Rosa served as president. Her son Herminio Rodriguez decided to resurrect the tradition after becoming president this year.
“One of the main reasons the founders of the club started it was to help the community whether the people were Hispanic or not,” Rodriguez said. “In this economy it’s really tough for people and we wanted to give something back to the community.”
Mark Piorkowski enjoyed the only hot meal he’d have all weekend and then went back for seconds.
“I’m hungry, this is a blessing for those of us who live on the street,” said the 50-year-old who admits he prefers solitude, which is why he has been on the streets for six years. “Until they open up the cold weather policy, we don’t get hot meals on the weekends. It’s really good. I was here for Thanksgiving too. I’ve been waiting for this for a week.”