Merton Center: Helping people “face to face”

BRIDGEPORT—Former NBC Universal President/CEO Bob Wright praised Merton Center for its “broad range of programs” and urged the 250 in attendance to support is mission at this morning’s 24th Annual Celebrity Breakfast held yesterday at the downtown Holiday inn.

Al Barber, President of Catholic Charities, said the breakfast is expected to raise $100,000 to support Merton Center, which serves and distributes more than 550,000 meals to the poor and hungry in the greater Bridgeport area each year.

Wright, who took a leadership role in supporting many non-profits as a national business leader, praised Merton Center and its volunteers for “helping people face to face.”

He singled out the “transition from guest to volunteer” program ”as an example of the way Merton Center empowers the working poor and homeless who rely on it for nutrition and other services.

“Even one person doing that is a success story,” said Wright. “If we can’t serve as volunteers like so many do, than our job is to provide financial support. “

Wright said since his retirement and the death of his first wife Suzanne from pancreatic cancer in 2016, he has worked to fund research into pancreatic cancer and autism, which afflicted one of his grandsons.

“This is may day job,” he said, referring to his advocacy for Autism Speaks, a foundation created by him and his late wife, and for the Suzanne Wright Foundation dedicated to accelerating pancreatic cancer research.

He said the men and women in attendance that the mortality rate for the diagnosis has not improved since 1971, when the “war on cancer” was launched nationally. Ninety-one percent of those diagnosed with the illness will die of it.

When he first turned his attention to the treatment of autism, he found that care for the condition was not covered by insurance and that many parents were paying out of pocket or with credit cards. Through his effort and the work of others, that has since changed.

Likewise, he noted that the “standard of care” for pancreatic cancer is inadequate and that much more research and advocacy is necessary.

During his talk the former GE Vice Chairman gave insights into the company’s current crisis and the challenges faced by new CEO John Flaherty.

“Many big companies are fighting for their survival,” he said, noting that the new GE leader has inherited $150 billion in liabilities.

However, he said that GE’s foundation is built on “three good businesses” and that the expertise of its employee base will be an important resource going forward.

Brian Jenkins, executive director of Merton Center, said, “We could never accomplish all that we do without the help of volunteers. They make a difference in the growing needs of the poor in Bridgeport. We know that eliminating hunger is a building block of the mind and the body.”

Jenkins presented the volunteer Creative Service Award to Aldona and Lou Lengyel of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull. The food pantry volunteers have served the poor at Merton Center for ten years.

In a brief remarks, Merton Center cook Sister Amanda Carrier, RSM, said that with the help of generous donations from area businesses such as Trader Joe’s she has been able to introduce fresh fruits and vegetables to the diet of her guests.

Describing the “Hollow” neighborhood around the Merton Center as a “food desert, where fresh produce is scarce and healthy food inaccessible to them,” Sister Amanda said that because they are poor, most guests can only afford processed food.

“I’m working to find a way to make Brussels sprouts appealing to our guests,” she said, adding that good food “fills their hearts as well as their stomachs.”

Louise Bayly Gidez is serving as chairperson of the Advisory Board. Marianne Kahn and Sheila McEnery served as co-chairs of the event.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim stopped by to greet the business and civic leaders in attendance and praise the mission of Merton Center.

“What gets done through Merton Center is incredible. We need to understand the challenges that their guests face in their lives and realize our blessings.”

In addition to its nutrition programs, Merton Center offers case management services to help guests become more independent, writing classes, spiritual groups, a women’s group, and other support groups. Guests can also take advantage of shower facilities two days a week.

Merton Center is sponsored by Catholic Charities. It is located at 43 Madison Avenue in downtown Bridgeport. To volunteer or make a donation call: 203.367.9036. Visit online: