Supplies of virtually everything are very low, and West Hartford Food Pantry organizers are hoping the public will donate.
By Ronni Newton
It’s not unusual for inventory to be a bit low in the West Hartford Food Pantry at this time of year, but the shelves are nearly empty and Community Partnerships Manager Suzanne Oslander is hoping to raise awareness and encourage immediate donations.
“Even at this time of year we usually have more in storage, but what we have going in we have coming right out,” she said Thursday.
Donations tend to pick up in November, and the Food Pantry will get a big boost from the Morley Red Wagon Food Drive in November as well as from Thanksgiving and other holiday food drives, but she said that the need is immediate. She said that staff has had to shop for items just to be able to serve existing clients.
Stock tends to get low over the summer, Oslander said, because people are away and schools aren’t in session to hold food drives. Many faith communities that typically give during other seasons don’t have drives during the summer either. “There’s not enough to keep up with the demand. We’re reaching out to faith communities now, but it takes time,” she said.
The most critical need is for regular-sized boxed cereal, pasta/spaghetti, canned fruit, and rice, Oslander said. Jars or cans of spaghetti sauce; boxed macaroni and cheese; canned soup, tuna, and beans; and jars of peanut butter and jelly are also needed, as are other non-perishables like boxed potatoes or “Hamburger Helper.” The one thing that’s not needed right now is canned vegetables because of a recent large donation from Stop & Shop, she said.
Oslander said that food can be dropped off on the carts located near the information desk in the lobby of Town Hall. If there is a large donation, donors can call in advance (860-561-7561) and staff can meet them in the parking lot to help unload.
The West Hartford Food Pantry, which falls under the umbrella of the Town That Cares Fund, relies entirely on community support and does not receive money from the town’s general fund, Oslander said.
The number of Food Pantry clients has recently stabilized, Oslander said. Although there was a small uptick over the summer when kids were out of school and families had to provide breakfast and lunch that would otherwise be eaten at school, the number went down once school began again.
The Pantry also relies on volunteers to assist with many day-to-day tasks, and that’s also a current need.
“We have a very strong core group of very dedicated volunteers that support the Food Pantry in multiple ways,” said Volunteer Coordinator Barbara Roberts. Volunteers help unload donations, check dates of donated items, shelve, pack bags of food for distribution, assist with the self-select program, and pick up donations from Stop & Shop and Whole Foods.
“We are extremely fortunate to have the volunteers we have,” Roberts said. The Food Pantry is a large operation, and some of the volunteers have been helping out for many years. One has volunteered for more than 20 years, she said.
Roberts said the need is for volunteers who can substitute when regular volunteers can’t make it, as well as people who are willing to serve as temporary helpers during the holiday season and pick up at other grocery stores that will serve as donation sites. “We expect to be inundated with holiday donations and we will need help,” she said.
Social Services is also planning a program to deliver food to homebound individuals, and volunteers will be needed to help with that once or twice a month, Roberts said.
While volunteers must be at least 18 years old, Roberts said that youth who want to assist can help by holding food drives. Many will also ask for food donations at birthday parties and other events.
Oslander said that the West Hartford community is extremely caring and generous with time as well as resources. “When we ask we usually get, but it’s the awareness. We hope we’re inundated,” she said. “The need is 12 months of the year.”
Oslander wants to be sure that any West Hartford resident who is in need knows that they can contact Social Services (860-561-7561). Pre-packed bags of food can be picked up once a month during the hours that Social Services is open (daily 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.), or clients can use the self-select option (once per month) on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
The West Hartford Food Pantry can also be supported through donations to the Town That Cares Fund. Donations can be mailed to the Town That Cares Fund, West Hartford Town Hall, 50 South Main St., Room 306, West Hartford, CT 06107. Donations can also be made online by clicking here.
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