Mashantuckets, HGTV Interior Designer Volunteer at Free Farm to Food-Truck! Plus 6 Decorating Tips on a Shoestring Budget

Mashantuckets, HGTV Interior Designer Volunteer at Free Farm to Food-Truck! Plus 6 Decorating Tips on a Shoestring Budget

Christina Rose

The line outside the free food-truck near the Walls Temple A M E Zion Church of New London, Connecticut, numbered more than 100. The farmer's market fare was made possible at no cost to families in need through a partnership between the church, United Way and the Mashantucket Pequots. The monthly food project began in December 2013, just prior to the holidays, explained Reverend William D. Wilson, pastor of the church and member of the Southeastern Connecticut United Way’s board of directors.

The church started by giving out turkey and related food items, and it was able to grow and continue helping families in need by joining forces with a local tribe. “We decided to partner with the Mashantucket Pequots and have been up and running for over six months. It is working out real well,” Rev. Wilson said.

The food—primarily fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and breads—is donated by Walmart, Target and other local stores. There are no cookies or ice cream, the children in line told ICTMN, and the donation staff confirmed that sweets are not on offer.

Stephanie Brown, a church trustee and staff member of United Way, assists each month. “Foxwoods brings volunteers every month and has adopted the church. The people who come are primarily the same people from the community,” she said.

This month, HGTV and Food Network television star Taniya Nayak, from India and now living in Boston, came to volunteer at the food truck. Her visit was sponsored by Foxwoods, and fits right in with her personal volunteer efforts the focus of her shows. “I do something on Food Network called Restaurant Impossible where we give families in dire straits a restaurant. We teach them the skills to run it themselves, over a 48-hour period,” Nayak said, and added that the show featured a restaurant on an east coast Indian reservation. “We have done 100 restaurants in 100 different locations,” she said.

Beyond volunteering, economically empowering families and championing healthy eating, Nayak is known for her interior design skills.

She offered five decorating ideas on a shoestring budget. “This is my forte,” she laughed. 

1) Painting gives anything it a fresh new look, and that can include furniture.

2) Anything can be turned into a headboard including an old door, inexpensive mirrors, and drapery.

3) Turn baskets and planters into hanging light fixtures.

4) Pallets can often be picked up from grocery stores for free. They can be stacked and pushed up against the wall. Put cushions on them for a bed or seating. “It’s actually quite trendy now,” Nayak said.

5) Tables can be made from inexpensive hollow-core doors.

6) Fabric pieces wrapped around a frame or canvas, and hung on the wall, is great for people who can’t afford expensive art.

Alice Soscia, United Way staff, said that Foxwoods has been an extraordinary partner in the region. “Last year they had a Stuff-The-Bus program to help homeless children receive toys, pajamas and blankets, and they did a special dinner at the Treehouse Arcade for homeless families for a pizza party, fun and games,” Soscia said.

Socsia said Foxwoods chefs have gone to the local homeless shelter to cook a holiday dinner. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “They ran a fabulous campaign to raise funds for the United Way, so their donations are making this stuff happen.”

Among other events, Foxwoods is planning a multitude of food service programs and initiatives. Socsia couldn’t say enough about the tribe’s community efforts, adding, “It’s extraordinary. I wish our region really understood how giving the Foxwoods people are. I work for the Southeastern Connecticut United Way and I am honored to see this everyday.”

“We partner with the United Way and so many other organizations; like the Special Olympics, diabetes, Habitat for Humanity,” Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler said. “Our staff comes out and volunteers, and we do the annual fundraising for the United Way.” 

Looking at the food truck, surrounded by smiling volunteers and families who came for food, Butler said, “This is great! The volunteers get out of work early, and once they get exposed to it, they get hooked on it. Me and my wife, we have my daughter and son actively helping, going to the food pantry or singing at the senior center. The thing is, if you aren’t exposed to it, you don’t realize how easy it is.”

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