Demand has continued to be high, and the West Hartford Food Pantry has a critical need for certain items. The Mandell JCC is hosting a food drive on Friday, April 3.
By Ronni Newton
Day-to-day operations at West Hartford Town Hall have been altered amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the building being closed has impacted the method of delivery of services in all sectors, the Food Pantry is continuing to respond to the critical need in the community.
“Whenever there is a need, West Hartford residents always reach out with generosity and compassion,” said Suzanne Oslander, community partnerships manager for the Town of West Hartford.
Whether it’s food, financial support, or volunteering, Oslander said, “That’s West Hartford. People rise up and truly offer. They want to help their neighbors, the people they know and the people they don’t know, because ultimately everyone is their neighbor.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing an upheaval in so many aspects of daily life, and impacting so many people’s jobs, Oslander said she anticipates the Food Pantry will see a far greater demand from residents than ever before in the coming weeks. She said that just before Town Hall’s building had to close, the Department of Social Services reached out to regular clients so they could select food directly from the Food Pantry in advance, so the demand thus far has been fairly steady.
Since the building closed in mid March, only pre-packaged bags are being distributed in order to protect staff and recipients, and maintain proper physical distancing. “We are still able to give out food to people who need it,” Oslander said, and even though it’s from a distance, they are still maintaining the connection with residents.
Curbside pick-up of pre-packed bags of food – containing healthy, essential food items – is available from the Food Pantry’s temporary operations located under a tent located at the entrance to the Town Hall building at 50 South Main St. at the following dates and times: Tuesdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m., Wednesdays from 9-11 a.m., and Fridays from 10 a.m.-noon.
“The outreach from the community for donations has truly been heart-warming,” said Barbara Roberts, volunteer coordinator.
Donations can be dropped off at the same time as food pick-up is available at Town Hall, and in addition, the Mandell JCC is hosting a food drive on Friday, April 3, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the main entrance at 335 Bloomfield Ave.
“Just drive in, drop in the bins, we’ll have volunteers there,” JCC Director of Marketing Michelle Bonner said.
The JCC is asking for donation of the following items (open packages or expired food cannot be accepted):
- Cold cereal (preferably low in sugar)
- Pasta sauce – most critical
- Tuna or other canned meat
- 1-pound packages of rice
- Canned fruit
- Peanut butter (16-18 ounce sizes if possible)
- Diapers (large size is particularly needed)
- Baby formula
- Toilet paper
- Facial tissue
- Baked beans
- Canned pasta
“‘Community’ is in the Mandell JCC’s name,” Bonner said. “Our doors may be temporarily closed right now, but we all can still practice Tikun Olam (repairing the world) by helping our neighbors. … As many of you are preparing for the Passover holiday and ridding your kitchens of ‘chametz’ (foods with leavening agents that are not permitted on Passover such as pasta, cereal, cake and bread), this is a perfect way to share them with families in need.”
For more information about the Mandell JCC Food Drive, click here.
At Town Hall, volunteers are continuing to assist town staff in sorting and stocking items in the Food Pantry, and packing the bags for distribution.
“Our volunteers are amazing,” Oslander said. Strict protocols are in place, in the pantry itself as well as at the distribution, including distancing, the use of gloves, and frequent disinfection.
Oslander said that the most critical needs at the Food Pantry include cooking oil (which is not traditionally an item distributed but is now on the list), canned chicken and tuna, rice, pasta, pasta sauce, soup, canned fruit, and non-food items such as diapers (all sizes, but large in particular), wipes, toilet paper, and soap.
Regarding some of the non-food items, Oslander said, “Those are things that many families will find a challenge to afford.”
Even though faith communities are not currently meeting for services, many have continued to drop off donations, Oslander said, as have neighborhood groups that continue to hold food drives.
“This is a close-knit community,” she said of West Hartford. “People know each other, care about each other, and check up on each other.”
Collection of large donations for the West Hartford Food Pantry should be scheduled directly with Oslander. She can be reached by calling 860-561-7580 or emailing [email protected].
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