Fairfield’s Operation Hope seeks new home as Great Hunger Museum prepares to move

FAIRFIELD — The Irish Great Hunger Museum planned move to Fairfield created a sense of urgency in Operation Hope’s plans to find a new headquarters.

The Fairfield-based nonprofit’s administrative offices and pantry are now located in the space at 636 Old Post Road that the museum plans to one day occupy.

Operation Hope, a non-profit organization that aims to help people facing housing and food insecurity, was already looking for a new home in Fairfield, one better suited to its needs.

Its director, Carla Miklos, said she had conversations with people at the museum and the Fairfield Gaelic-American Club.

“We understand their challenge to find a new place,” she said. “We recognize that this location will be a great location for them. It is close to the Gaelic American Club and the Fairfield History Museum.

Miklos said the museum would be welcome in Fairfield, but the challenge for Operation Hope is that it is still looking for a new location to house its nonprofit. She said that they will do a fundraising campaign to be able to afford this new location.

“Right now there’s not a lot of commercial real estate for sale,” she said. “Most people who own real estate in Fairfield keep it and rent it out. It is not profitable for us. We look forward to moving when the time comes, but it will be a while before we can vacate the premises and they can take over.

Miklos said it would take them a few years to be ready to move. She said she would like to think that no one in the community would want Operation Hope to become homeless.

“It’s quite ironic,” she said. “I think we feel some pressure to get it started. We just hope people will be patient with us.

John Foley, a member of the Gaelic-American Club who started an organization called Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum of Fairfield Inc., did not respond to a request for comment.

Miklos and first coach Brenda Kupchick said a deal was in the works, but it would take until January to confirm details. Neither would comment on the details of the possible new location.

Kupchick said the city was working with Operation Hope to find a new location to base its work on – although several potential projects fell through. She said she thought having the museum near the Gaelic-American Club and the city center would be a good location.

“I thought it would be a nice addition to the area. It would attract people, which would attract people to our restaurants, to our retail stores,” she said. “I thought it was a win all the way.”

Controversial

The museum’s collection move to a new home will close a controversial chapter for Quinnipiac University, whose trustees voted not to reopen the museum last year after its initial closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The museum, which opened in 2012, had cost Quinnipiac some $15 million, not including art purchases.

The the decision to close the museum was controversialand sparked a lot of backlash in the Irish American community.

In March, Quinnipiac University announced that it was to pack up the collection of the Great Hunger Museum of Ireland and move it to a new houseof which the Gaelic-American Club of Fairfield will become the steward.

The university will likely need to receive permission from the courts before the Gaelic-American Club of Fairfield can accept charitable donations from the art collection that once included the Great Hunger Museum of Ireland, the attorney general’s office has said. of State.

The news comes a year after the state announced its investigation into the fate of the collection, and a university spokesperson said Quinnipiac was satisfied with the results of the investigation.

The attorney general’s office will monitor the status of the collection until the transfer is complete, Assistant Attorney General Gary Hawes wrote in an Aug. 16 letter to Quinnipiac’s attorney.

Hawes’ letter, dated Aug. 16 and shared with Hearst Connecticut Media by the state attorney general’s office, comes nearly a year after the agency began its investigation and references the Quinnipiac project. to transfer the collection to the Gaelic-American Club of Fairfield.

The plan still sees Quinnipiac maintain an educational partnership with the club. He must also go through a legal process known as a fair diversion action before the new museum can take over the collection’s charitable assets, according to the letter. This process essentially ensures that new collection stewards are an appropriate choice.

In an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media, Foley said the Great Hunger Museum of Fairfield, Ireland, was in “lockdown stage” with the Attorney General’s Office and was working to ensure all appropriate protocols were followed. He said the new museum’s mission would be the same as the old one – “to preserve the important history of the Great Hunger”.

Operation Hope

Operation Hope announced last year that it had received a $1.5 million state grant to help with its search for a new headquarters. At the time, Miklos said the nonprofit was looking for a building of about 12,000 square feet that it could renovate to meet its needs.

Operation Hope provides a number of services in Fairfield, including outreach, hospitality and crisis resolution services to over 1,200 people annually. It also serves over 20,000 meals per year from its community kitchen and provides over 170,000 meals to over 1,100 households per year through its food bank.

Additionally, Operation Hope operates 70 affordable housing units in Fairfield and Bridgeport and helps house an additional 300 people per year.

The organization has been using the old Nichols Street Police Station since the construction of the nearby new station, as well as renting a building from the First Congregational Church on Old Post Road – the proposed location of the Hunger Museum. The Old Post Road location houses its administrative offices and pantry.

Last year, Miklos said she felt they were operating on borrowed time – as the city indicated they wanted the Nichols Street property back for a different use. She also said they had outgrown the Old Post Road building.

Now that this last building is also needed for something else, Miklos said they feel the pressure to do it all. It will take some time to line up all those ducks, she said.

Miklos said it would be an “interesting kind of synergy” for Operation Hope to move their pantry to another location while the Gaelic-American Club brings in a museum that talks about the famine.

“I think it’s kind of an interesting interrelated message for the community,” she said. “Hopefully the timing is right – that they’ll be ready to move in when we’re ready to leave.”

Hopefully, Miklos said, everyone understands that they will still have to operate out of the Old Post Road building while they renovate the space they take over.

Kupchick said no one would force Operation Hope out and they could take the time they needed to find their own space. She said she has been actively engaged with them for at least 20 years and feels the city is obligated to help the organization because of the work it does to help residents in need.

“I feel a personal affection for them because Jacky Durrell, the only other woman who played the (first choice) role is the one who created it,” she said. “I kind of feel a responsibility to carry on that legacy and I also care deeply about the work they do.”

But, Miklos said, Operation Hope cannot leave the building until there is somewhere to go. She said the funding they received last year is not all they need for this process. She noted last year that they were hoping to take out a $1 million loan and raise another $1 million.

“It’s also about finding someone who’s willing to sell us and getting something built that’s worthy of the people we serve and the community in which we operate,” she said. “It’s a process and we are engaging in that process.”

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About Bobby F. Lopez

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