HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!
Thanks to our illustrious former President Debbie Landzberg pulling some strings with her media contacts, Daily Bread was the featured pantry in a recent News-Times story about the significant increase in demand seen at local charitable food organizations since the beginning of the year. If you can access it without hitting a paywall, the complete story is here.
Otherwise, I've cut and pasted the best photos and the text of the article below. In a slightly bizarre coincidence, our very own Sandra Ferreira (member of Daily Bread's Board of Directors) was also pictured on the front page in an unrelated article about charter school funding.
DANBURY — Bundled in jackets, hats and scarves, a line of people stretched down Terrace Place on a frigid Tuesday.
The weather hasn’t been a factor in demand at Daily Bread Food Pantry. Through rain, snow and other storms, people need to eat, said Peter Kent, president of the pantry.
“You’re not going to be standing outside in the freezing cold, minus whatever with the wind chill, if you don’t really need the food,” he said before Tuesday morning’s distribution at the pantry behind St. James Episcopal Church.
Demand for food at the pantry has surged since the start of the year, hitting a record high of 273 people Feb. 8, Kent said. That’s far more the 60 to 70 people the pantry averaged at each distribution prior to COVID-19 and even more than the around 240 clients volunteers served during 2020.
“Even as the pandemic seems to be getting under control again, the economic impact is still very much with us,” Kent said.
Other local food pantries said they’re still seeing high demand for food, and that need has increased due to rising costs for groceries and the expiration of the expanded federal child tax credit. This comes as some pantries struggle to get access to fresh produce due to supply chain challenges.
“We’re seeing a huge rise again, just in the last week or two, which is scary,” said Linda Hutchings, manager of Community Food Rescue, which is the hub for pantries in the area. She coordinates securing food for the local pantries and runs the Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut’s food bank, which distributes about 40 to 50 pounds of food to around 125 people on Thursdays.
Some pantries have seen new clients, as well.
“Either some of them are holding steady, some of them are going up by a little or a lot, but there's been no decrease in demand,” said Tida Infahsaeng food policy manager with United Way of Western Connecticut, which is the backbone for the Danbury Food Collaborative — a group of 24 nonprofits that include Daily Bread.
Supply chain challenges have made it harder for retailers, stores, food banks and donors to get food to pantries, Infahsaeng said.
“It’s challenging all around for everyone who is trying to help people who are food insecure,” she said.
Hutchings has seen this best in the lack of available produce. She typically picks up 15,000 pounds of food a week, but is down to about 9,000 pounds, she said. For example, last week, the Connecticut Foodshare, an organization many pantries use, only had onions available, she said.
“Giving someone a bag of onions is not helping you to make a meal,” said Hutchings, adding she purchased other produce elsewhere.
This week, only potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions were available from Connecticut Foodshare, which didn’t return a request for comment. Still, Hutchings said the organization has been a “savior” and is not charging for food at the moment.
Daily Bread Food Pantry and Jericho Partnership said they have been able to meet the demand thanks to community donations and partnerships with businesses, the Danbury Food Collaborative and Connecticut Foodshare. However, donations from the community are typically lower this time of year, compared to the holiday season, Kent said.
Hutchings blamed “out of control” grocery prices and the end of the expanded federal child tax credit, which expired at the start of the year, for making it harder for families to afford food.
Winter months are typically hard because many clients are seasonal workers, she said. Families must also reckon with electric costs.
“If you’re going to chose between heat and food, that’s a horrible situation,” Hutchings said.
Many of the clients at Daily Bread Food Pantry have jobs, but don’t earn enough to meet the rising cost of items like food, Kent said.
“They just can’t make it,” he said.
Effect on pantries
At Daily Bread Food Pantry, demand declined in early 2021, but rose again around June and July. The number of visitors increased 21 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, with food purchases increasing 2020 percent between 2020 and 2021. Food purchases in 2020 were up 1,000 percent compared to 2019.
At the start of 2022, the pantry saw a “massive blip” in numbers, which Kent said he was “blown away” by. He expects to average about 250 clients at each Tuesday and Friday morning distribution for a while.
Demographics have skewed younger since the pandemic started, said Kent, pointing to a mother carrying a young child, along with her food.
Since COVID started, Daily Bread has allowed clients to go to the pantry three times a month, rather than once a month, but volunteers are “flexible” on enforcing that rule, Kent said. The pantry has increased how much food it gives, too.
Clients receive a pre-selected package of non-perishables, eggs, milk, meat, canned meat, bread, rice, beans and fresh produce, he said. They may also select personal care items such as soap and diapers that aren’t covered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Food is distributed outside because everyone couldn’t fit in the pantry, which was renovated shortly before COVID struck. Still, the renovation allowed the pantry to triple its storage space, Kent said.
Volunteers have floated moving to a bigger space, but they would need to stay downtown, since about a fifth of clients walk or take public transportation, he said. The organization also wants to set up appointment times when a smaller group, like the elderly, could come indoors, he said.
Prior to COVID, Jericho Partnership served 35 to 40 people weekly at its Friday food pantry, but saw 160 people at its peak in October 2020. Numbers dropped to the 80s or 90s in spring 2021, but have since risen to the 120 range, officials said.
“The need is absolutely without question still there,” said Lisa Siedlecki, senior director community engagement at Jericho. “I don’t know if this just uncovered people who were struggling anyway, or if these are people that were directly impacted by the pandemic, or it means the pandemic’s hits are still being felt. It doesn't matter to us which it is. We're here to serve anybody that needs help.”
The organization now offers “weekend bags” for about 30 families in the public schools, with plans to expand to more families, Siedlecki said.
Jericho Partnership and Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut offer other programs and services to clients to offer other assistance and address causes of poverty. United Way of Western Connecticut also offers a healthy savings program that provides funds for clients to purchase produce.
“We’re not a Band-Aid,” Hutchings said.
Hutchings said she’d love to see a pantry open on Saturdays in Danbury to be more accessible to working families. She urged businesses and individuals to donate food.
“If everyone in Danbury dropped off one can of soup, oh my gosh we could make a dent,” she said.