United for Gemma Gala celebrates Food Center’s 35th anniversary and the legacy of the pioneer who founded it

United Way of Southeastern Connecticut held its first-ever gala benefit event to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center. United for Gemma honored the evolution of the Food Center from 1988 to present-day, as well as founder Gemma Moran, who passed away earlier this year.

The annual Gemma E. Moran Award for Inspiration was presented to James Newman, a member of United Way’s Board of Directors and the MDA-UAW Local 571.

Rodney Butler, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chair, noted, “The award was established in 2014 to honor an individual who embodies the spirit of Gemma and her legacy of envisioning and bringing to fruition the Food Center. This award is given to someone who has had an impact on the community and inspires us to do more.”

Jim Newman first became a United Way Allocations volunteer in 2009. He is actively involved today as an Allocation Panel Chair and Chair of the Allocation Committee. He recruits others into Allocations to learn more about where United Way donations are invested. Newman spearheads many of the volunteer activities and food drives for the Electric Boat Employees’ Community Services Association. He is a trained Union Counselor to assist coworkers when they are in need and direct them where to find services to help.

The Food Center began in 1988 as a way to assist struggling workers and their families through the collection and distribution of food. Through her work at United Way as the region’s first Labor Liaison starting in 1973, Moran secured a venture grant from United Way to establish the program.

The program has always been an example of the strong, time-tested partnership between United Way and Organized Labor. The current facility in New London was refurbished by volunteers including skilled union workers of the Metal Trades Council, AFL-CIO, Southeastern Connecticut Labor Council, MDA-UAW Workers Local 571, Teamsters Union Local 493, and Norwich-New London Building and Construction Trades Council, in partnership with United Way. General Dynamics-Electric Boat provided paint, refrigerators, and other necessary equipment while their volunteers painted the entire building.

Today, the Food Center has 72 member programs that serve as our community’s food assistance network. With food received from the Food Center, this network feeds 22,286 people every month. Through this collective effort the Food Center distributed the equivalent of 1.8 million meals this past year.

In Moran’s honor, United Way Board Chair, Marie-Claire Peakman, announced the start of a new women’s leadership group called Women United. The group will be co-chaired by Michele Scott, Tribal Councilor at Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and Pamela Days-Luketich, Vice President, Community Development Outreach Officer at Liberty Bank.

“It is going to take collective action to fill Gemma’s shoes,” Peakman said. “I hope you will consider supporting and joining this amazing group…The effort, the work, the progress does not stop tonight. So, I ask you, who will step up and serve in the same capacity as Gemma did for so long? We all have the capacity to be like Gemma.”

To learn more about Women United, go to: https://www.uwsect.org/womenunited.

Additionally, the Gemma Legacy Fund has been established to ensure the continued, sustained support of Food Center operations now and into the future. Donations can be made at: https://www.uwsect.org/gemma-moran-legacy-fund.

United for Gemma was made possible by the following sponsors:

  • Presenting sponsors: Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods Resort Casino
  • Gold sponsors:
    • MDA-UAW Local 571
    • General Dynamics-Electric Boat
  • Silver sponsor: Charter Oak Federal Credit Union
  • Bronze sponsors:
    • Backus Hospital/Hartford Healthcare
    • Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT
    • Groton Utilities
    • Liberty Bank
    • Norwich Public Utilities
    • SCADD
    • US Foods
United Way of Southeastern Connecticut is a locally-based non-profit organization supporting a network of health and human services, programs, and initiatives in New London County that work together to help people in need and improve community conditions. Supported programs make an impact in four areas: Basic Needs; Community Wellness; Promoting Independence; and Thriving Children and Youth.
United Way operates the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center which provides food to a network of free emergency food programs in New London County and a Mobile Pantry, at no cost to those in need. United Way supports 2-1-1 Connecticut for free information and referral 24/7 and Project Warm-up for one-time, emergency heating assistance. Visit United Way online at www.uwsect.org.