Food pantry always finds folks in need

Feasts at family gatherings are the centerpieces of most Ridgefielders’ Thanksgivings, but for some folks, tables of plenty aren’t so easy to come by.

“The food pantry is just rocking and rolling,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the selectmen.

The last monthly food distribution by the Connecticut Food Bank truck drew about 160 to 165 people — though they’re probably not all Ridgefielders, Marconi told the selectmen’s Nov. 13 meeting.

“The ‘angel’ who covers the cost doesn’t want any ID — no ‘Ridgefield only.’ If they’re there, they’re there because they need it,” Marconi said.

The Connecticut Food Bank’s mobile food pantry comes the second Friday of each month, stopping from 11 to noon at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, off Ivy Hill Road near East Ridge Middle School.

Separate food distributions specifically for needy Ridgefielders are run through town food pantry programs overseen by the Social Services office in town hall.

The Connecticut Food Bank truck distribution has its biggest draw in the holidays.

“We generally range from 120-160 people at the truck,” said Tony Phillips, the town’s social services director.

“We plan for more people in November and December each year. Typically they pack the truck for 160 portions, and during the holidays we pack for more than 200.”

Turkeys

The food truck provides a variety of products.

“There are always several frozen proteins and many vegetables and fruits,” Phillips said. “This past distribution included turkey, ground beef, milk, carrots, potatoes, canned ravioli, bread, among other things. Each distribution is different; last month we had butternut squash, salad greens, honeycrisp apples, yogurt…

“We normally have a turkey during November” he added.

In the December distribution, turkeys, hams, and other pork cuts are given out in anticipation of the holidays.

The food truck’s next distribution is expected Friday, Dec. 14.

“Anyone is welcome from any town,” Phillips said. “People are encouraged to not come before 10:30, bring their own bags.”

The food truck program dates back to 2012, the year before Phillips started in Ridgefield, he said. It was coordinated from the start by Sharron McCleery Lavatori, who died in September.

“Our largest distribution was in November/December of probably 2014 or ’15; we distributed over 200 turkeys,” Phillips said.

The Connecticut Food Bank truck also makes regular distributions around the state in cities including New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Danbury, Stamford, Torrington and Derby and in smaller towns like Bethel, Winsted, Old Saybrook — and Ridgefield.

The Connecticut Food Bank distributed food enough to serve what it estimates at 21 million meals last year.

Town Food Pantry

The Ridgefield Food Pantry run out of the Social Services office in town hall is open 8:30-4:30 for Ridgefield residents who have registered there. There’s a limit of two bags of food for each person in the household.

“We have over 150 households who qualify to use the pantry, however, different people use the pantry differently based on their needs,” said Phillips. “Some come only when they feel the crunch, and others use it regularly once a week,

“We could have 20 to 50 people come into the pantry per week, it really depends on the individuals needs. It also depends on what we have. If our shelves are full, there is generally more interest…

“We have steady needs throughout the year,” he said.

There are also what Phillips calls “pop-up pantry” food distributions at either St. Stephen’s or Ballard Green, on the Monday following the first Saturday of the month (when the Rotary has its food drive) from noon to 1 p.m.

The next pop-up food distribution is Dec. 3 at Ballard Green.

“We regularly have 20-30 households who attend the pop-up pantry which is a one-hour distribution, one time per month,” Phillips said

In addition to the Rotary with its monthly food drives, the town’s food distributions programs benefit from donations by churches, schools, and people who simply feel moved to donate.

“This week, we received donations from Jesse Lee Church and St. Andrew’s Church of over 50 bags filled with Thanksgiving supplies,” Philips said.

“The food pantry receives lots of variety, too,” Phillips added. “All non-perishable items are accepted. We do get more items like gravy, stuffing mix, canned vegetables, pumpkin during this time. In fact some groups focus on providing a bag filled with traditional Thanksgiving items.

“Although our many residents need and appreciate help with that one meal, they also appreciate help for the other meals as well,” Phillips said.

Donations

Donations of non-perishable food as well as personal care and household products may be brought to the Social Services Department in town hall, or to the program’s storage area at Yanity Gym.

The department asks that people call in advance for larger donations.

“I often suggest to kids and families who are looking to donate, that they focus on kid-friendly items; cereal, PB&J, pancake mix, tuna, school snacks, etc.,” Phillips said. “Other needed items are canned chicken, canned fruit, Progresso soup, oatmeal, spaghetti sauce.

“Quite often we have an abundance of canned vegetables,” Phillips added. “If anyone has ever done a school or scout visit they will know our nemesis are green beans. We get way more than  we can distribute, so we often have a full shelf of green beans. We also have cut back asking for bagged rice.

“Often after the holidays we will get ‘gift’ items that people won’t use like fancy mustard or jam, baking mixes or other things. It’s always a grab bag when clients come to the pantry,” Phillips said.

“…The expectation at each distribution is that there are fresh vegetables and fruit, at least two proteins and each household should leave with between 35-40 pounds of food,” he said.

It represents a lot of generosity.

“…The actual cost is likely at least several thousand dollars per month,” Phillips said of truck visits plus and food donated to pantry through the Rotary collections and other donors.

“At the food pantry, we just crossed over receiving over an estimated $500,000 worth of donations from the Rotary Club over a five-year period,” he said. “We get at least that much from the community at large.

“It is impossible to inventory and value our donations. But whatever we get in, turns around and goes out,” he said.

“If we wanted to estimate that in the past five years we’ve received $500,000 from Rotary and $500,000 from the community at large, we’ve both taken in and distributed an estimated $1 million worth of food. I can’t say that’s a fact,” Phillips said, “but it’s certainly a possibility…

“The holidays tend to be plentiful. Right now we have an abundance of food,” Phillips said. “Six weeks ago, we had several empty shelves.”

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