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LUNCH group performs concerts to help the hungry

Norwich Bulletin;

MYSTIC -- It's the day after Thanksgiving and thanks to big turkey dinners with stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, hot vegetables and pies for dessert, there's a lot of full bellies in eastern Connecticut.

But for many families it's just another day of hunger.

With that in mind, an ensemble of some 30 children in fourth grade and up -- most of them from eastern Connecticut and a few from Westerly -- are preparing for concerts this year and next to raise money for food banks and homeless shelters statewide.

The Mystic-based group is called LUNCH, or Local United Network to Combat Hunger, and is directed by Bill Pere, a Connecticut State Troubadour who was recently named the national 2003 Independent Music Artist of the Year.

Alyssa Pezzello, 11, and a Griswold Middle School student, was on the Internet researching a project for her enrichment class when she came across the Web site for LUNCH.

The program suited her interest in drama. It also evoked compassion for people in need.

Prior to the start of a rehearsal Monday at the Union Baptist Church in Mystic, Pezzello recalled a trip to Boston where she saw a homeless man on a sidewalk ask passersby for food for his kitten.

"He wasn't even asking for food for himself," said Pezzello, who is doing a video on the LUNCH program to show how children can make a difference in the world.

Her father, Chris, who drove her to the practice, said he is pleased her daughter is participating in the program.

"It allows her not only to perform but she is doing it for a good cause," he said.

One in 10 children in Connecticut lives in poverty, according to a new analysis of Census data from Connecticut Voices for Children, a policy and advocacy organization for children and families.

In 2001-02, 10.2 percent of children in the state lived in poverty, compared to 10 percent in 1999-2000. The latest data are based on the Current Population Survey gathered by the Census in March.

Connecticut's child poverty rate is the sixth lowest in the nation.

But the report, "Child Poverty and Poverty Measures in Connecticut," said official federal poverty measures underestimate the number of children in poor and economically struggling working families.

Pere founded the non-profit organization 14 years ago in honor of late songwriter Harry Chapin, who founded World Hunger Year.

Since then, LUNCH has raised more than $300,000 to support some 30 community-outreach agencies and more than 1,600 children have participated in the program.

Pere said the proceeds represent more than 1 million meals with some of the money going to Norwich Social Services, Catholic Charities in Norwich and Alliance for Living in New London.

"First and foremost it's raising awareness," said Pere, whose wife Kay serves as the associate director for LUNCH. "A lot of people are unaware that homelessness and hunger is an issue not only in Connecticut, but also in our local communities."

Pere, the executive director of the Connecticut Songwriter's Association, said the LUNCH program is needed more than ever in light of recent state budget cuts that have reduced funding for services to the needy.

A free concert will be held from 3-5 p.m., Sunday at the Meeting House in Olde Mistick Village.

That concert is a precursor to a holiday musical written by Pere that will be presented Dec. 6 at the Union Baptist Church.

And next April, the 15th anniversary of the program, The Connecticut Songwriters Association, in partnership with LUNCH and Three Rivers Community College, will present a songwriting and performance conference at Three Rivers.

Jen Chapin, a New York city singer and songwriter and daughter of Harry Chapin, will be among the featured guests.

The ensemble performs two theater shows and up to 15 concerts a year.

Matt Llewellyn, 13, and Kevin Schwenk, 14, of Ledyard Middle School, said they knew little about the problem of homelessness and hunger in the eastern Connecticut until they joined LUNCH.

"We try to do our best so people we raise money for can have the best," Llewellyn said.

For more information about the program go to or call Pere at 572-9285. The Voices for Children reports is available at 

Originally published Friday, November 28, 2003

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