Published December 19, 2020
By Greg Smith
New London — When Thomas “Chef Tomm” Johnson began his Whalers Helping Whalers initiative early in the pandemic to help feed the masses, he had no idea how long the need would last.
It’s eight months later and, after a break after summer, Johnson is at it again and leading a band of volunteers to raise money, secure food, cook the food and deliver upward of 600 meals each week to people in need.
With the high school under construction, Johnson, who is the culinary department manager at New London High School, has found a new home at the Elks Lodge in New London for his activities.
On Saturday, he had something special planned. It’s called Miracle Families and it is similar to an initiative run in conjunction with the school in past years. Along with all of the fixings for a full family holiday meal being delivered to numerous families across the city, 10 families were in line to receive a special boost of holiday cheer.
Those families were to receive food along with gift certificates, gifts and in some cases a Christmas tree with all of the trimmings. The families were identified through the city’s Department of Human Services Help Line and among other sponsors, Shop Rite pitched in $3,000 and Target $1,000.
Johnson’s crew of helpers on Saturday included New London firefighters, police, school district counselors and others making deliveries throughout the city.
“We’re trying to give them a cool Christmas,” Johnson said.
When Whalers Helping Whalers started earlier this year, Johnson was joined by some prominent local chefs who have since returned to their own jobs. His cooks these days on Saturdays when they prepare meals include former students, members of the Ledge Light Health District Medical Reserve Corps and others.
“We’re going to keep going until we run out of money or people aren’t hungry anymore,” Johnson said.
He said support from the community has been amazing. Whalers Helping Whalers, now officially a nonprofit, has raised $30,000 to date, including a $12,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, and served more than 1,300 meals and 30,000 pounds of food.
Local restaurants have pitched in to prepare meals and a host of organizations have stepped up to volunteer or identify families and individuals in need.
Johnson said he intends to raise more to tackle food insecurity in New London. "People are still struggling,” he said. “It’s seems to be getting a little bit worse. Maybe it's the time of the year.”