By Andreas Yilma and Elio Gugliotti, Staff
NAUGATUCK — Claire Bellemare believed it was important for children to eat breakfast.
“I couldn’t imagine sending my children to school with no breakfast — I’m going to make sure other children have it as well,” Bellemare’s daughter Mary Mitchell recalled her mother saying.
For the last 20 years Bellemare donated cereal to the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank to help make sure children could eat breakfast.
“We always called her the ‘cereal lady’ (because) for years she would come and bring bags of cereal,” said food bank President Marty-Lee Fenton, adding that over the years the volunteers at the food bank got to know Bellemare well.
Bellemare died May 8 at the age of 83. She was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and moved to Naugatuck when she was 16. Bellemare and her late husband, Joseph, raised eight children.
Mitchell said her mother, who lived near the food bank, lost her ability to walk about two years ago. She continued to make her deliveries using a wheelchair with help from her family.
Bellemare also donated popsicles in the summer and children’s books. The food bank built a small library for children with the books.
Still, cereal was her calling card.
Fenton said the cereal would be given out just as fast as it came in. If a family is struggling to put food on the table, Fenton said, they can make a meal out of cereal anytime.
“That’s something that a family can eat anytime, day or night,” Fenton said.
Mitchell said her mother’s kitchen was still full of cereal she was planning to donate herself. On May 12, Bellemare’s family honored her memory by dropping off that cereal at the food bank.
“She was very charitable. We were blessed and always had what we needed,” Mitchell said. “She wanted to share.”