Food Banks In Connecticut Struggling To Keep Pace With Demand
September 19, 2009
The shelves at Foodshare's cavernous warehouse in Bloomfield are stacked high with boxes — but most of them are empty.
Being frugal types, the folks at Foodshare are big on recycling, and when it comes to packing and shipping food, you apparently can't beat banana and tomato boxes.
The problem for Foodshare President Gloria McAdam is filling those boxes.
Food banks across the state and country are seeing a recession-fueled leap in demand and are struggling to keep up. Foodshare, which distributes food through 400 sites in Hartford and Tolland counties, has seen a 30 percent increase this year.
McAdam said she first saw a spike in mid-2008 as the recession worsened, and by early this year demand was skyrocketing.
"I've seen double-digit increases — 10, 11, 12 percent — but I've never seen a 30 percent increase," said McAdam, who has worked at Foodshare for 25 years.
The organization has increased its capacity since last year and currently distributes about 15 tons of food a day. "Even though we grew by 20 percent, we're falling further behind," McAdam said.
The Connecticut Food Bank in New Haven covers the rest of the state, distributing about 35 tons of food a day through 650 programs in six counties. Nancy Carrington, the organization's president, said she has seen an 11 percent increase since last year.Those who run the sites where food is distributed see the crunch firsthand. Gifts of Love, a food pantry in Avon, has reported a 20 percent increase in demand. A food pantry in Manchester reported a 49 percent increase from 2007.
"There are a lot of people lining up for help who never dreamed of being in that position," Carrington said. "It's not very far from any of us."
For McAdam, the convoy of 15 trucks rumbling down Woodland Avenue earlier this week was a welcome sight. The trucks, representing most of the region's supermarkets as well as food producers, were loaded with about 100,000 pounds of goods in what has become an annual observation of September's designation as Hunger Action Month.
With demand expected to increase even more during the holiday season, food banks and local pantries are employing a variety of strategies to keep their shelves stocked, from fund-raising appeals to making it easier for supermarkets to donate food.
Food retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers donate the bulk of what food banks distribute. Products approaching their "sell by" date, damaged cans or items that are otherwise inappropriate for retail shelves — cans with crooked labels, for example — are donated. But in recent years some of those products wind up in dollar stores, cutting the percentage that goes to food banks.
Another stream of donations comes from food producers who tried new products that didn't sell well, but Carrington said there is less of that these days.
"They're reining in their costs as best they can," she said.
McAdam said Foodshare now sends trucks to more than 40 supermarkets. They usually pick up 200 to 300 pounds of meat a week per store.
Food banks have also been more aggressive about helping clients find other programs, such as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Foodshare's Krista Ostaszewski said income guidelines for the program changed significantly in Connecticut in July, making more people eligible. She encouraged people who think they may qualify to call their local social services department or call the state's service referral hot line at 211.
In the meantime, local food pantries are making appeals for contributions to deal with the influx of new clients.
"Some of them are embarrassed that they're coming here and some of them are angry they are coming here," said Marita Eppler, who runs the food pantry for the town of Wethersfield.
She has seen an 11 percent increase in clients and is hoping she will have more than reassuring words for people seeking food for Thanksgiving.
"I try to assure them that, hopefully, theirs is a temporary situation," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at