The need to help feed Fairfield's hungry never takes a holiday
Published 8:40 pm, Thursday, December 9, 2010
The temperature has dropped, the wind hits a little harder, but even though wintry weather is closing in, generosity blossoms.
From individuals to corporations, people in need have not been forgotten, according to officials at food pantries, homeless shelters and food banks.
Om Tuesday morning, for instance, at the Connecticut Food Bank's 18,000-square-foot warehouse on Linwood Avenue in Fairfield, 20,000 pounds of food was shipped out the door to the agency's member programs, which include food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens.
However, the food bank, Westport's Gillespie Center and Operation Hope's Food Pantry can never have enough. The hungry need to eat every day, not just around the holidays.
"Donations are a little slower this year than other years," said Connecticut Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Nancy Carrington. "We didn't have as much excess of food drive food that we often look to get us through the winter. We don't have as many totes in the warehouse."
Carrington said her group recently did an analysis of the various food pantries it serves and findings revealed that "55 percent of the food going out to these agencies is going to rural or suburban towns."
"The old perception was that poverty is an inner-city problem," she said. "Certainly there's people still in need in the city but in this time of economic distress it is people who have lost jobs or had their hours cut back who are needing help for the first time in their lives."
In fact, some of those receiving food and other items used to be donors to the Connecticut Food Bank. "It is a very difficult thing for people to do, to swallow their pride and ask for help," said Carrington.
Many people are using their investments to survive and wonder if they now have enough earning power in their working years ahead to recover their economic stance prior to the recession.
Anyone in the Fairfield or Westport area wanting to help families during the holidays and drop off food at the CFB, located at 74 Linwood Ave., or provide support by contributing to the virtual food drive (where specific items can be picked out) at www.ctfoodbank.org or by making a general donation via a credit card or check. For every dollar donated, Connecticut Food Bank can provide nearly four meals to someone in need.
Just like the Connecticut Food Bank, the Westport-based Gillespie Center, a shelter run by Homes with Hope (formerly Interfaith Housing), relies heavily on the kindness of businesses and individuals. Homes with Hope's pantry is well stocked right now, but such is not always the case.
"People are very generous this time of year," said Jeffrey Weiser, president and chief executive officer, but added, "More goes out in January, February and March than comes in."
The fuller Homes with Hope's pantry or Operation Hope's Food Pantry gets stocked right now, the better off the two organizations will be down the line, well after Thanksgiving and Christmas have passed. Everyone from real estate agencies to school PTAs conduct food drives for Homes with Hope. It helps out a lot, considering only 20 percent of Homes with Hope's budget is covered by state and local government funding, officials said.
Every year, Weiser is amazed by the outpouring of support for Homes with Hope from the community.
"This really is a time of the year to take stock of what we're thankful for," he said. "Forget gifts, presents and material things. Others are just happy to get food. This is a wonderful time for the pantry because we get to see the bounty from our generous community."
It helps the Gillespie Center, which has an attached four-bed shelter for women, get through the winter months. At the same time, the donating is a bit of a seasonal activity, Weiser said.
He said the pantry is often low around spring, then gets a little fuller, then gets depleted by August, when people are on vacation. The Gillespie Center also relies on volunteers for its community kitchen, which serves the shelter residents and anyone else in need of a meal. All of the meals served are prepared off-site. About 400 volunteers a year prepare, deliver and serve food for those in need, according to Weiser.
While the Gillespie Center can use many items, Weiser was asked what would be best to donate. He noted that "cereal is the most versatile," and "peanut butter and jelly is always great."Also, spaghetti sauce, Tuna Helper and Hamburger Helper. However, a full list of items is at www.hwhct.org/
Anyone wishing to volunteer at the Gillespie Center, or get involved in other Homes with Hope programs, such as the Women's Interfaith Network -- a program designed to support Homes clients and other women at risk who are struggling to create stable and self-sufficient lives -- should call Audrey Sparre at 203-226-3426, Ext. 12. For the complete list of ways to get involved, visit www.hwhct.org/become-volunteer.
"Whenever anybody helps out, that's what keeps us going here," Weiser said.
As for Operation Hope of Fairfield, which oversees a food pantry, a community kitchen, supportive affordable housing and shelters for men, women and families, Executive Director Carla Miklos said donations as of late have been generous. While that may be so, she encourages people to continue with the giving spirit "so we can make it last during the leaner months."
In addition, Miklos is counting on people being generous with donations of turkeys, hams, stuffing, mashed potato mix, cranberry sauce, corn, sweet potatoes and other food traditionally eaten during the holidays. "We're hopeful that we'll have enough holiday food to make enough holiday baskets," she said.
Miklos admitted that times have been a bit tough. There's been a 30 percent increase in need, yet financial donations are down about 30 percent. However, those that can still give like they always have are the lifeblood of places like Operation Hope.
"It is truly remarkable, and we're lucky that even in these trying times, or because of these trying times, people are responding to their neighbors in need," Miklos said.
In addition to being able to rely on the support of individuals, houses of worships, school classrooms and civic groups, Operation Hope is fortunate in that it is located in a town with two Stop & Shop stores, both of which donate non-perishables. From business to children, Operation Hope seems to have the support of everyone.
Miklos noted that some youngsters have been known to instruct guests of their birthday parties to bring a canned good to be donated to Operation Hope. Sometimes one event makes a big difference. Two weekends ago, the movie "Elf" was shown at the Fairfield Community Theatre and Operation Hope was able to collect five 37-gallon containers of food, as well as monetary donations. Operation Hope accepts everything from canned goods to toiletries, shampoo and tissues.
Businesses make up part of the backbone of support but Miklos acknowledged that most of the generosity comes from individuals. "I think that having a local presence helps remind people that not everybody is thriving. It reminds people that it's a problem in our own community and we can take action to do something about it," she said. "We can actually help solve the problem and I think that's very compelling for people to be part of the solution."
The Town of Fairfield itself is also involved in doing its part to help those in need. Claire Grace, director of the Human Services Department, said people are getting involved in the "Adopt-A-Family" program, in which a family that meets the financial guidelines can provide a wish list of items for either a child or the family itself.
Garden clubs, firefighters, and even the Human Services Department itself, has adopted a family. In fact, the Social Services Department adopted two - an elderly couple and a single woman.
"It makes a Christmas for them," said Grace, who added that if it weren't for all the various entities adopting a family, the impact would not be as great, as her department has a limited budget for the "Adopt-A-Family" program. "Without the help of the outside people, we couldn't help all of the people we help," she said.
Anyone who would like to "adopt a family" is encouraged to call 203-256-3170.
Barbara Butler, director of Westport's Human Services Department, was unavailable for comment before press time.