Ridgefield's mobile food pantry takes an eco-friendly approach

RIDGEFIELD — Tony Phillips was disappointed that Ridgefield’s mobile food pantry could not operate last year despite knowing the need was there, he said. On Friday, however, those needs were met yet again as the town hosted its second distribution event of 2021 in partnership with the Connecticut Food Bank.

Phillips is the director of Ridgefield’s Department of Social Services, which recently resumed the monthly program to bring fresh produce and canned goods to residents in Ridgefield, Danbury and other surrounding communities.

“It’s a different look and feel,” Phillips said of the new set up, which is held at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church on Ivy Hill Road. Due to pandemic protocols, the Connecticut Food Bank drops off supplies in plastic-wrapped wood palettes as opposed to arriving in a refrigerated truck, leaving Ridgefield’s volunteers to handle the clean up.

“It’s an expense for the church to hire a hauler and have their dumpster pulled,” said volunteer Tiffany Carlson, “so we attempted to make it as close to zero-waste as we could.”

Carlson is a member of the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment, which educates residents on waste reduction and material management, and participates in the town’s Organics Food Scraps program.

“Raising my children, I’ve realized what a blessing this planet is, and we just have to do better,” she said, “and if I could do one piece in my community than I can look back without regret.”

With the reemergence of the mobile food pantry, Carlson has been charged with removing and sorting recyclable materials from the pile to ensure they’re disposed of sustainably. In January, she and other volunteers recovered 60 pounds of organics — which was diverted from the waste stream to become compost — 13 pounds of plastic film and repurposed the wood palettes for campfires, she said.

Scout Troop 76 also assisted in the clean up. According to St. Andrew’s Pastor Beth Anderson, “By the time they were done there were only a few items in the palm of [the troop leader’s] hand that went into a garbage can — everything else was recycled.”

Additionally, Ridgefield’s Meals on Wheels, the Danbury Grassroots Academy, Connecticut’s Community Food Rescue ans Sustainable CT have partnered with the town’s food pantry to ensure leftovers don’t go to waste.

“Whatever I get I have to find a way to distribute it,” Phillips explained. “We’re very invested in bringing food to those who need it.”

“The beneficiaries have incredible gratitude, but for some people there’s a level of confidentiality they prefer,” Anderson added, “and this is a site that really honors that.”

Interested residents can sign up to volunteer on the department’s website (www.ridgefieldct.org/social-services). For more information about the monthly mobile food pantry, visit Ridgefield Social Services on Facebook or call town hall at (203) 431-2777.