Food Pantry User Numbers Explode

Inflation may have eased marginally in the past few months, but the Norfolk NET Community Food Pantry is still seeing its impact on area families. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, a total of 27 families were fed, a great increase over pre-Covid figures.

“It’s interesting,” said volunteer director Lynn Deasy. “When we started keeping statistics in January of 2022, we fed only eight different families each week for a total of 27 people. Now we are up to 42 families a week, or 114 people.”

 “In the past few weeks, we have had a couple of days where we were as high as 20 different people. My volunteers have rollerblades on. The numbers have just exploded,” she said.

The Pantry has nine volunteers. “We are so blessed. We couldn’t do this without them,” the director said. 

Deasy has seen little reduction in the cost of living. “I don’t see a decrease,” she said. “If you need food, you need a lot of other things as well. A lot of times people are just shifting things around, asking, ‘What bill will I pay?’”

The Community Food Pantry, located in Battell Chapel, takes a some of the worry out of current daily life. It is set up like a mini grocery store and patrons are allowed to choose what they like to eat, unlike some food banks, which hand out bags of pre-selected groceries. “We were trying to figure out why we are getting so many people,” Deasy said. “Everyone said, ‘Because you let me choose what to eat.’ We all have things we don’t like.”

She said there are no restrictions on the amount taken, except for meat or dairy products, which are limited to two meat items and three dairy products. “We do ask them not to come more than once a week and I tell them, ‘Pretend this is your weekly grocery shopping.”

An affiliated Clothes Closet serves anyone who needs clothing and bedding, and accepts donations of clean, lightly used items.

Since 2017, the food pantry has been operated under the auspices of Norfolk NET, a collaborative, grassroots organization that works to alleviate poverty. “The food bank has been around for 30 years and used to be operated through the Church of Christ’s discretionary account,” said Deasy.

“But we got feedback that some people didn’t like writing a check to the church. We talked with [First Selectman Matt Riiska] to see if we could go under the town, but that never really worked.” 

The group further explored becoming a nonprofit but were dissuaded by the tax filings required for 501(c)(3)s. In the end, the agency simply opened a bank account, and donations can be made directly to the Norfolk Food Pantry. “It makes it easier to budget and balance,” said Deasy.

“Mostly, we are trying to figure out what else we can be doing to increase support. We’ve upped our social media, and my sister is building a website. I think that will help. And the town pages [the Norfolk Hub’s eblast, and the church pages] have gotten the word out,” she continued. “Without donations, we wouldn’t exist.”

People can support the food pantry by either placing non-perishable foodstuffs in a blue bin at the back of Battell Chapel, 12 Litchfield Road; bringing perishable items such as meat and milk to the food pantry during opening hours, or through monetary donations left with pantry volunteers or in the church office. 

While all donations are gratefully received, Deasy said that money may benefit the food bank more. They have a dedicated shopper, David Gourley, who assiduously seeks out bargains. “He loves to shop, and he is always looking for the best prices,” Deasy said. 

Each week on its Facebook page, the food bank lists foods that it particularly needs. This week it is seeking cold and hot cereals, oranges, apples, bananas, coffee, cranberry juice and egg cartons. Yes, egg cartons—Bill Arkuett’s hens are back on the job after their winter hiatus. 

The food bank is open Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 

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