‘We’re here to help:’ Ridgefield Social Services assists hundreds with food insecurity

RIDGEFIELD — The spirit of giving is already evident in town as residents came together in recent days to lend a hand to those in need.

More than 100 area households with food insecurity were assisted by an event held at St. Andrew’s Church, hosted by the Department of Social Services. Although a lack of refrigeration prevented volunteers from doling out turkeys, recipients received butternut squash, apples, carrots and other ingredients to whip up Thanksgiving sides through CT Foodshare.

“The food distribution mainly serves people from elsewhere, but our volunteers take great pride in that,” Director Tony Phillips said. “We’re here to help.”

According to a 2020 report compiled by United Way of Western Connecticut, 22 percent of Ridgefield households are considered ALICE; the acronym stands for asset limited, income constrained, but employed. The ALICE threshold represents households that earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living for the area, the report says.

Additionally, 2 to 3 percent of Ridgefield’s population lives below the poverty line, Phillips said, noting that affluence is “a misconception in probably any of the towns in our surrounding area. … Our office is busy every day.”

Social Services stopped accepting donations for its food pantry at Town Hall at the beginning of the pandemic for the safety of its clients, volunteers and donors. Since then it has aided food-insecure residents in another form: grocery gift cards.

The department spends up to $15,000 a month purchasing gift cards in bulk using donations from community members and local grant funding, Phillips said. The gift cards offer clients the “ultimate flexibility” to shop for items they prefer and work around any food sensitivities or allergies they may have.

The program has been scaled back a bit due to increased availability of food assistance from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and free school lunches, Phillips explained. But this has not deterred the department’s mission.

This Thanksgiving, Social Services is partnering with Meals on Wheels, Nature’s Temptations and EZ Moving to deliver pre-cooked meals or ingredient baskets to dozens of local households. Dimitri’s Diner and Ridgefield Prime will cater the prepared meals.

Both RVNAhealth and Paris Salon have adopted families to feed this holiday, and an “angel donor” is having Silver Spring Country Club prepare a meal to donate to a family of four.

Phillips encouraged those interested in organizing a food drive to contact the department in advance. On Friday, Ridgefield High School student government representatives Anshuman Suryuwanshi, Lukas Overlock and Finn Atkins delivered two cars worth of donated food to Town Hall.

“We’re really thankful (to) the Ridgefield community for supporting us and being there for us so we can help their neighbors,” Phillips said.

On Sunday, the town also hosted a Thanksgiving Celebration in Ballard Park to kick off the holiday season on a grateful note. The event invited residents to bring canned goods to donate to Meals on Wheels and accept donations to benefit the food pantry and the Association of Religious Communities in Danbury.

“The spirit of giving in our town is truly alive and well, and we want to give thanks to those people who recognize ... the reward that goes along with it,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “You can have a positive impact on people’s lives by giving and helping.”

To donate to Ridgefield Social Services, call 203-431-2777 or email Phillips at socialservices@ridgefieldct.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com