New London – At the walking food distribution point of St. Sea Star Church. Mary on Huntington Street, recipients on Friday collect pre-packaged canned and pasta bags, a 5-pound bag of potatoes, two bags of apples, one bag of three or four pounds of frozen turkey, along with two or three bottles of juice and half a gallon of milk. .
“I haven’t used a soup kitchen in 15 years,” says Kasey Belair of Waterford. I’m grateful for everything.
Belair, who has cut her hours at the Mohegan Sun Casino, said her husband was retired and that her mother was disabled. Most of the food he received was for his mother. Belair said he was surprised by the quality of the food that was distributed, especially frozen turkey.
The Connecticut Food Bank / Foodshare weekly food distribution has been running for the last three Fridays in New London, with nearly 300 people per week carrying boxes or tote bags or pulling carts to the walkway.
According to the Connecticut Food Bank, food insecurity in the state is estimated to have increased 28% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research by Feeding America estimates 545,000 people, including 164,000 children, in the state are struggling with food insecurity. In New London County, the number of people facing food shortages increased 36% during the pandemic, and the number of children jumped 49%.
Agencies are working to meet the growing need for food and other services, while also shifting to new distribution methods and COVID-19 safety protocols.
At Groton Human Services, office assistant Megan Freeman said the phone was ringing with people asking for food, household goods and pet food, and other services, such as rental assistance.
“Needs remain constant as many residents are still experiencing reduced working hours or have been laid off due to the effects of the pandemic and are having difficulty paying monthly bills including rent and utilities, in particular,” said Director Marge Fondulas. He said the need was at least double during the pandemic. Many of the department’s assisted clients didn’t use services before the pandemic, but now they need them.
While the Humanitarian Services building is closed to the public, social workers accept applications for assistance by phone, and email client documentation or place them in drop boxes outside the building, said Fondulas. Staff members stepped in to carry and sort food and collect food bags, as most of the volunteers did not come to the building due to safety protocols. The agency provides food from the Groton Food Locker to Groton residents in need, by agreement, he said.
“We remain impressed by the generosity of local residents who consistently provide food and monetary donations,” said Fondulas, explaining that the agency depends on grants and donations to maintain the assistance. Donors have used their stimulus payments to buy food for food lockers or to donate funds to food lockers or the department’s Donation Trust Fund, which is often used to help clients with rent. The department also receives grants from the United Way and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.
Groton Human Services averages nearly 100 individual food distributions from food lockers to households per month now, compared to about 35 before the pandemic, said Finance Assistant Heidi McSwain.
Lisa Carney, a social worker at the department, said food lockers were available by appointment every two weeks – and many people came every two weeks – to pick up food. People have also received items such as toiletries and cleaning supplies donated by the Groton Elks Club, he said.
In addition, Stephen Pulaski, a licensed clinical social worker and youth counselor, continues to provide counseling via in-person appointments with safety protocols, or remote appointments. She has helped younger clients, who may feel frustrated with technology during distance learning, and teens, who may feel disconnected from her social group, to express their feelings and find ways to cope with them.
Norwich Human Services does not run a traditional food pantry but offers grocery store gift cards for residents in need. Director Lee-Ann Gomes said requests for help had skyrocketed, as food sources had dwindled during the pandemic.
Prior to this past March, the agency distributed about $ 100 a week in grocery gift cards and referred residents to St. Petersburg. Vincent de Paul Place for daily hot meals and the Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Washington Street for a monthly meal. The two have turned to packaged food during the pandemic, which may be more difficult for some families, said Gomes.
Norwich Human Services has expanded its food gift card program through donations. Since March, it has received more than $ 5,000 – including $ 4,400 in handbag sales fundraisers led by Town Planning Directors Deanna Rhodes and Alderwoman Stacy Gould – in donations for grocery gift cards. Gomes said one anonymous donor gave $ 600, and another donated a recent $ 600 federal stimulus check.
He said all the money donated was used for food, as families cut their food budgets to pay rent, utilities, car bills and now internet connection fees. The agency uses the federal Community Development Block Grants to help people with rent and utilities.
Gomes said he learned about one distressed family through school officials who visited the home to check the children’s attendance and quickly learned that his mother had no food. Gomes went home with a grocery gift card and commuter bus ticket to allow him to go to the shop.
$ 4,400 from the handbag fundraiser was lost, Gomes said. He has instructed his staff to get $ 25, $ 50, and $ 100 grocery gift cards into the family’s hands as quickly as possible.
Dina Sears-Graves, vice president of community impact at Gemma E. Moran United Way / Labor Food Bank in New London, sees the need for increased food aid. Hundreds of people, many recently laid off or laid off from work at the start of the pandemic, storm a mobile food distribution event on March 25 in New London at the start of the pandemic.
Sears-Graves says typically, the Gemma Moran center – which supplies food to dozens of food kitchens and social service agencies across the region – relies on a lot of winter food drives to restock its shelves after the holidays. But this year, with many people working from homes and churches and community groups with limited activities, the urge for food has fallen sharply.
United Way now runs a virtual food drive on its website, www.uwsect.org, where donors can choose to donate a complete grocery bag or specific items.
Sears-Graves says the federal Farmers to Families lunchbox distribution program has helped fill the gap. Since October, United Way has coordinated the distribution of more than 23,000 boxes to New London County residents, each containing 5 pounds of meat, 5 pounds of produce and 5 pounds of dairy products. “The boxes have reduced our food service burden,” he said. “We are very lucky to have the boxes. This balances our supply. “
United Way is awaiting details of the upcoming fourth round of the distribution of Farmers to Families lunchboxes in early February and is partnering with housing authorities and housing complexes to help distribute food boxes to residents unable to reach distribution sites.
“It is very important to convey food to the public through various sources,” he added.
On Friday, Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., And a group of their colleagues, announced that they plan to reintroduce a bill in Congress requiring the federal government to pay 100% “of fees to states and localities so they can partner with restaurants and a non-profit organization to prepare nutritious food for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and underprivileged children. “
Theresa Hammer of Groton, which is in distribution Friday in New London, is in her second layoff from Foxwoods Resort Casino, where she worked for five years. “It’s out of their control,” he said of his employer. “They were very good to me.” She is aware of online food distribution and says it helps cover other expenses.
New London’s Nicholas Martino said he picked up “staples” at Friday’s distribution, including vegetables and fruit, to help stretch his limited income. He lost his job when the Hermosa Group power company in Groton closed down. She said she had scoured the internet for work without success. Navy veterans and volunteer graduate culinary schools are numerous in the city, helping veterans, the homeless and community dining programs. After the pandemic clears up, he hopes to host a cooking show for the local homeless.
Paul Shipman, a spokesman for the Connecticut Food Bank, said in the last six months of 2020, his agency distributed 15.8 million pounds of food in six Connecticut counties, including New London County, an increase of 2 million pounds over the previous six months.
Connecticut Food Bank and Foodshare co-sponsor four weekly food distribution locations across the state, including a new distribution in New London from 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm Friday at St. Sea Star Church. Mary, 10 Huntington St., and in Norwich from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Monday in a former Foxwoods employee car park on 28 Stonington Road-Route 2.
“The pandemic has caused unemployment and significant economic stress for families, and we know that demand will remain high over the coming months,” Shipman said. “The new weekly distribution we offer in New London and Norwich will help households in need.”