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Dumas vows not to give up Thanksgiving dinner, as SoNoCC looks for fresh start

Ernie Dumas of A Better South Norwalk chats with a reporter in March.

Ernie Dumas of A Better South Norwalk chats with NancyOnNorwalk in 2014. (Archive photo)

Updated, Oct. 9, photo from Martha Dumas; Oct. 8, extensive rewrite to include Ernie Dumas’ comments

NORWALK, Conn. – Assertions made by The South Norwalk Community Center are “very fictitious,” Ernie Dumas said Wednesday.

“I am just a little ticked off right now, a little upset about the situation because of the way it’s going,” Dumas said. “It’s getting political… It’s a Thanksgiving dinner. That is the worst part, that’s the part that makes you angry,”  Dumas said, one day after SoNoCC Executive Director Kelly Robertson reached out to the community, looking to collaborate in offering a Thanksgiving dinner without the group led by Dumas.  

Dumas on Tuesday had confirmed that he has not been able to arrange his annual turkey giveaway, held at SoNoCC for years, but said he did not have time to share details. South Norwalk Community Center board Chairman Warren Peña distanced himself from the topic while Mayor Harry Rilling promised to intervene.

“I know for a fact that we can come to an agreement,” Rilling said.

This would be the 20th year the Dumas-led group offered free turkey. About 300 people benefited last year, including people who did not even make it to the South Norwalk Community Center, at 98 South Main, as volunteers deliver meals to senior housing centers, Dumas said.

His group has always held the event at 98 South Main, but that was when SoNoCC was basically an underling of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON), which went bankrupt in 2014.

The bankruptcy is still in court, and the city is fighting to keep NEON’s half of the building from being considered an asset to be liquidated in the bankruptcy, to have it instead revert to city ownership.

Contacted about the situation Tuesday, Peña said a statement would be forthcoming from SoNoCC Executive Director Kelly Robertson.

“I’m not involved in the day to day operations,” Peña said. “Everybody who utilizes the multi-purpose room deals with Kelly. … We expect that everyone that we collaborate with to follow the processes and procedures that we have in place.”

Robertson’s statement alleges problems with the Dumas effort:

“The room usage charge has been $1050 with a $300 security for over a year.

“In the past the community center had donated the use of the building free of charge. But in the past it was only for Thanksgiving dinner and sorting of a toy drive.

“Last year, they requested even more time and more space, and the community center gave it to them, but while it was going on, it was more disruptive than expected, and members of the community were turned away when one of the conditions of use was that no one was turned away from the toy drive.

“This year, the same requests as last year was made, but due to last year’s difficulties, the board of directors decided at their Aug 19th Board meeting that the community center would not be able to completely donate the use of the building for these events, without full collaboration and an open door to the community. Otherwise, if the events were to be kept closed, then it would have to be considered a private event and standard rental procedures would be in place.

“They were invited to discuss the situation with the board at the board’s last meeting on September 23rd, but did not attend.

“The South Norwalk Community Center still firmly believes that the community deserves a Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas toy drive, and would like to collaborate with the community to achieve this.  Anyone, looking to help with these efforts should contact the SoNoCC executive director, Kelly Robertson at [email protected]

“Some are saying that we turned away some of their people. That has never happened since we have been there having this Thanksgiving dinner,” Dumas said. “I don’t know where these comments are coming from. We have never had a problem since the day that we started this program, but I do believe that someone else wants to take over the program themselves but they can’t take over what belongs to us. They can start what they want, (but) we started this 20 years ago and I am not going to give it away to anybody.”

He compared it to having someone ask to take away a business.

“I don’t know where it is coming from and I don’t know what it is. We always recognize the South Norwalk Community Center in the Norwalk Hour, always recognize Stew Leonard’s, all of the people that give to us,” Dumas said.

Dumas said that he had always given games to the SoNoCC after-school programs and toys to the Christmas drive.

People from the South Norwalk community started the program, including Darlene Young, Dumas and his wife, he said.

Under previous SoNoCC management, he and his wife would get a phone call every year to ask if the dinner was on, he said. The answer would be yes, and they would be asked to come fill out the form, he said.

In August, Martha Dumas went to the center and talked to Robertson, he said. They heard nothing until late September.

“She went down and asked them and that’s when they said we couldn’t have the Thanksgiving dinner because we turned away their people. That doesn’t sound good. We never turned away anyone,” Dumas said.

He was offered the Side by Side school as a location to give the dinner, Dumas said.

“I refused the Side by Side because of a simple reason,” Dumas said. “We established a great clientele with the community at the South Norwalk Community Center and if we left there, and they had a Thanksgiving dinner, then all of the people that we have put together over those main years would go to the South Main Street community center and we would be over at Side be Side with a lot of food and nobody there to eat it.”

“We need to sit down with Mr. Dumas and Mr. Peña and work out an acceptable agreement so that Mr. Dumas can have his event which serves so many people on Thanksgiving Day, who may not have a place to go to get a Thanksgiving meal,” Rilling said. “A lot of us who have an abundance, we don’t really think about that. Ernie has been doing this for a very long time and he is very committed to having this at the South Norwalk Community Center. I think if we all sit down and work out an arrangement that everybody’s purpose will be served.”

“We are looking forward to having this Thanksgiving dinner,” Dumas said. “By the grace of God it will happen.”

we could only acommodate so many to be within fire code.

The Dumas-led 2014 Christmas giveaway at the South Norwalk Community Center is shown in this picture, according to Martha Dumas. “We could only accommodate so many to be within fire code,” she said.

 

Original story:

NORWALK, Conn. – The South Norwalk Community Center is reaching out to the community, looking to collaborate in offering a Thanksgiving dinner as it rejects the effort sheparded by Ernie Dumas.

Dumas on Tuesday confirmed that he has not been able to arrange his annual turkey giveaway, held at SoNoCC for years, but said he did not have time to share details. South Norwalk Community Center board Chairman Warren Peña distanced himself from the topic while Mayor Harry Rilling promised to intervene.

“I know for a fact that we can come to an agreement,” Rilling said.

This would be Dumas’ 20th year offering free turkey. He’s had several hundred people partake, according to published reports.

Dumas held the event at 98 South Main when SoNoCC was basically an underling of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON), which went bankrupt in 2014. The matter is still in court, and the city is fighting to keep NEON’s half of the building from being considered an asset to be liquidated in the bankruptcy, to have it instead revert to city ownership.

Contacted about the situation, Peña said a statement would be forthcoming from SoNoCC Executive Director Kelly Robertson.

“I’m not involved in the day to day operations,” Peña said. “Everybody who utilizes the multi-purpose room deals with Kelly. … We expect that everyone that we collaborate with to follow the processes and procedures that we have in place.”

Robertson’s statement alleges problems with Dumas:

“The room usage charge has been $1050 with a $300 security for over a year.

“In the past, the community center had donated the use of the building free of charge. But in the past it was only for Thanksgiving dinner and sorting of a toy drive.

“Last year, they requested even more time and more space, and the community center gave it to them, but while it was going on, it was more disruptive than expected, and members of the community were turned away when one of the conditions of use was that no one was turned away from the toy drive.

“This year, the same requests as last year was made, but due to last year’s difficulties, the board of directors decided at their Aug. 19th Board meeting that the community center would not be able to completely donate the use of the building for these events, without full collaboration and an open door to the community. Otherwise, if the events were to be kept closed, then it would have to be considered a private event and standard rental procedures would be in place.

“They were invited to discuss the situation with the board at the board’s last meeting on September 23rd, but did not attend.

“The South Norwalk Community Center still firmly believes that the community deserves a Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas toy drive, and would like to collaborate with the community to achieve this.  Anyone, looking to help with these efforts should contact the SoNoCC executive director, Kelly Robertson at [email protected]

“We need to sit down with Mr. Dumas and Mr. Peña and work out an acceptable agreement so that Mr. Dumas can have his event which serves so many people on Thanksgiving Day, who may not have a place to go to get a Thanksgiving meal,” Rilling said. “A lot of us who have an abundance, we don’t really think about that. Ernie has been doing this for a very long time and he is very committed to having this at the South Norwalk Community Center. I think if we all sit down and work out an arrangement that everybody’s purpose will be served.”

5 comments

Mrs. Ruby McPherson October 7, 2015 at 10:05 am

Why take away from this groups effort, so many years they have build. The Thanksgiving feeding has alway been open to the public I volunteered. I also volunteered for the Christmas and those who signed up came and was served pizza and given a toy bag, because they could only have a certain amount of people that the room hold legally and they gave away pizza. So this was not a Adult thing which showed up. So Kelly since you where in and out and snapping pictures so SoNcc could use for obtaining grants and didn’t get permission of thoses who picture you took. Stop making up storying. What toys where left when to you. We had no problems at the door or inside, everyone was very happen and my group that volunteer will testify on that.

Mr. Ludlow October 7, 2015 at 1:02 pm

If you can’t use the homeless and hungry as pawns in your political machinations, then you just wouldn’t be worthy of being a disgruntled (dare I say “tainted”) former politician.
Good to see someone is willing to abandon political correctness (and community mindedness) to settle old political scores.

Mike Mushak October 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

My partner and I have volunteered at this dinner on Thanksgiving in the past, and don’t ever recall any disruptions or tension as has been described in this article.

In fact, all we remember are smiles and gratitude from the folks who benefit, a rainbow cross section of our diverse South Norwalk community. We do recall hearing “God is good” quite a few times!

Please allow this to happen again. If it’s just all about the money, my partner David Westmoreland and I who live in the community will commit to contribute the room fee. But it seems strange and unfair to many of us that this beautiful and traditional event run by The Dumases that benefits so many folks should suddenly have to pay for the room after all these years.

It is also disappointing to us that anyone is even considering finding others to run it after all these years, creating hurt feelings and tension that seems unnecessary from where we sit, and may reveal an underlying agenda to divide our community that seems the opposite of what a community center is all about.

Kathleen Montgomery October 8, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Amen, Mike and Mrs. Ruby. Kelly, you need to carefully rethink this. It’s not right. Not on any level.

Pat Ferrandino October 8, 2015 at 8:36 pm

@ Mike Mushak:
Gee, Mike, that is very nice of you and David to make such a generous contribution. I remember seeing you and so many other wonderful people there at Thanksgiving two years ago when my wife and I were running the day-to-day operations at SoNoCC. We were absolutely thrilled at having Ernie’s event at SoNoCC and, I must say, it was the best-tasting turkey I’ve ever had! Ernie has done such a wonderful job with this event for so long, it would be a shame to dishonor the tradition.
And, speaking of shame, the shameful mismanagement and mishandling of this matter by SoNoCC’s Board and its Executive Director is despicable. How can Warren Pena possibly distance himself from this most recent debacle when he is, in fact, the Chairman AND President of SoNoCC and SoNoCC’s Board of Directors ultimately made the imprudent decision on August 19th? Could it be that perhaps Warren, his family and friends, aka LUC, want to celebrate Thanksgiving together at SoNoCC and host the event?

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