A view from Glen HIll: Food for the soul sates real hunger

Anna Rita Tornello is an award-winning lyric soprano trained in operatic singing in her native Italy and in New York City who, among many other professional accomplishments, has performed the title role in Madame Butterfly (as she will be doing again in June) and as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. Erica vanderLinde Feidner is a Juilliard-trained orchestral piano soloist who has performed with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Albany Symphony Orchestra, among others.

The two joined forces, as this newspaper reported in a feature article on them last fall, to donate their services for benefit concerts to support local nonprofits. And, in fact, their first benefit concert will be held in just over two weeks, on Sunday, April 28, at 4 p.m. The concert will take place in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church at 36 New Canaan Road (just past the intersection of Belden Hill and Wolfpit roads). Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $10 for children.

The concert will support the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee’s annual Stop Hunger Now meal-packaging event. The committee goes by the acronym “Wi-ACT,” pronounced “we act,” in accordance with its motto: “We act together for good.”

In its all-day meal-packaging event held each October, 100,000 highly nutritious meals are packaged by 500 volunteers from the 10 Wilton faith institutions, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, whose members constitute Wi-ACT. These meals are enough to feed more than 250 otherwise starving children for a year and are used in settings where education is also offered to the children served so that they are nourished in mind as well as body. The ingredients that go into those 100,000 meal packages are paid for by Wi-ACT and cost $25,000. Funding to defray these expenses comes from those Wilton faith institutions and from private donors — and now also from funds raised by this concert.

Interestingly, while Ms. Feidner and Ms. Tornello are consummate musical professionals, each also has another remarkable professional life.

Ms. Tornello is one of our Wilton police officers with credits for, among other things, tackling a suspect to make an arrest after a chase on foot during her first year of service here (shortly after graduating at the top of her Police Academy class) and more recently for assisting in the extrication of a driver from his burning car after it had gone down a steep embankment.

Ms. Feidner, a Wilton resident, was a child piano prodigy who has performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras from the time she was 11 years old. To get the funds for a grand piano of her own, she entered the Miss Vermont Scholarship Pageant and won that title — which carried her on to the Miss America Pageant, where she won the preliminary talent competition. However, a hand injury in a skiing accident sidelined everything for her on the performance side for a time. Undaunted, she proceeded to earn her master’s in business administration degree and subsequently became the top salesperson for Steinway & Sons for eight consecutive years before she founded her own very successful business in 2005.

Similar meal-packaging events to this Wi-ACT one are conducted by Wi-ACT’s supplier of bulk ingredients, the tax-exempt nonprofit Stop Hunger Now Inc. (SHN), around the country. However, Wilton’s event is unique in bringing volunteers from a large group of faith institutions in one community together for this purpose. The meal packages are delivered by SHN to wherever the need is greatest around the world, principally in sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti, portions of Central and South America, and the Far East. The meals packaged here in Wilton last October in fact went to Haiti and El Salvador.

Wi-ACT members love working together. The energy on the packaging floor is extraordinary as children and youth and their parents and other adults right up to senior citizens all work side by side at ingredient-mixing stations and on weighing, sealing, and boxing lines during two-hour shifts that span the whole day. Two years ago, even as heavy snows fell in that early, devastating snowstorm, volunteers kept streaming in so that the meal-packaging goal for that event was actually exceeded.

Wi-ACT hopes to have a large audience for this concert. The music will be extraordinary, of course, “offering serious music in a fun way,” as Ms. Feidner puts it, and the audience will also get to see one of Wilton’s Finest in a very different, non-policing role, joined by a former Miss Vermont. Each has the musical talent to match both her inner and her outer beauty!

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.