Food pantry needs increase during winter, continue after holidays
The new food pantry at Person-to-Person on Post Road in Darien is fully stocked. The ground level of the two-story building, which officially opened on Saturday, is complete with a sliding-door freezer stuffed with dozens of Thanksgiving turkeys and shelves crammed with canned foods. Upstairs, there are boxes, crates and shelves of back stock, including enough peanut butter to keep a summer camp in business.
It's an overwhelming amount of food, all of which has been donated by residents of Darien and neighboring towns. Local schools donated more than 400 bags of food last week alone, according to Executive Director Ceci Maher.
This week, as people throughout the country take time to give thanks over a traditional dinner, 100 local families will enjoy Thanksgiving meals sent out in baskets by P2P's emergency food pantry.
"Each basket includes a whole Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings," said P2P Volunteer Kelly Wheeler. The baskets aren't all uniform, but each contains an assortment of traditional Thanksgiving tastes, from turkey and cranberry sauce to baked goods and vegetables.
The holiday baskets are just one of the services provided by the pantry, which is an emergency service that provides enough groceries for clients to prepare three meals a day for several days. Person-to-Person serves between 50 and 85 families a week in Darien, Stamford and New Canaan, according to Maher.
While the shelves are stocked now, as locals embrace the holiday spirit, Maher anticipates a shortage of supplies in the upcoming months.
"People are so generous through Thanksgiving and Christmas, but most of the food that comes in now is gone by the beginning of January," she said. "By the beginning of February, we are to the bone. The need does continue, and we will need their help again in January and February."
The amount of people who rely on Person-to-Person's services does increase during the holidays, when children are out of school and parents have to provide breakfast and lunch for their kids at home, Wheeler said.
"And now through winter, there's a bigger increase because people are choosing between food and heating," she said.
Once the mild weather wears off, Wheeler anticipates a jump in requests for food. This anticipated surge will add to the increased numbers seen at P2P all year long.
According to Maher, the organization saw a 40 percent increase in the need for food last year, and an additional 17 percent increase this year. While P2P served 6,000 families in 2008, she estimates that 7,000 will seek its help by the end of this year.
This increase in need is consistent with national and state trends.
According to the USDA, 11 percent of Connecticut households battled hunger between 2006 and 2008; that's 390,000 families statewide. Another USDA report, released last week, indicated that a record-high 1 in 6 Americans struggled to put food on the table last year.
Due to the increased holiday need at P2P, volunteers at the pantry are sending out food in pre-packed bundles until the end of the year.
"We built this new facility with the plan to have clients shop for themselves, but right now the need is just so great, that we're packing the food. The self-select will start in January," Maher said.
The self-select model that Maher referred to is the new process by which pantry clients will receive their food. While clients currently receive pre-bagged food, the self-select model will enable people to choose the foods they would like to include in their packages, reducing waste and increasing efficiency. When a family comes into the pantry, they will receive a list detailing the amount of food they can choose, broken down by food group.
Instead of receiving a pre-selected allowance of grains, like three boxes of pasta, clients will be able to choose how to fulfill their grain allowance, based on taste preferences as well as religious, ethnic and allergy considerations.
While Maher said the pantry can certainly use donations during the holiday rush, she urges people to continue giving after the New Year.
Donors often don't think to bring in crackers and cookies, she said, since they don't necessarily register as staples in people's minds, but the pantry is always in need of these items. A white board in the food pantry also lists juice, condensed soup, canned fruit, canned tomatoes and canned spaghetti as the most-needed items in the pantry.
"No matter what they donate, trust me, it will be used," Maher said.
For more information about how or what to donate, visit www.p2pdarien.org or call Person-to-Person at 203-655-0048 and ask to speak with Kelly Wheeler.