East Hartford food banks seeing increase in number of people served

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Nov. 15, 2013
Susan Madrishin is a volunteer at Saint Mary's food bank.  Photos by Corey AmEnde.
Susan Madrishin is a volunteer at Saint Mary's food bank. Photos by Corey AmEnde.

When Anita Morrison first started volunteering at Saint Mary’s food bank in the 1990s, she used to purchase dozens of eggs each week to support the food pantry. Over time, she encouraged others to purchase eggs, and that took care of the problem. Currently, it isn't eggs she worries about, but the rising concern about the increasing number of people who utilize the food banks in town.

“We used to serve between 80 and 100 [people], and now we’re up well over 150 to 200 a month, so that’s why I was told at the end of the summer that I’ve depleted my funds,” said Morrison. “The church is really sustaining [and] keeping this pantry open and alive.”
The influx of people in need of food has been seen across all the town’s five emergency food banks that are hosted by local churches.

“Last year we served 2,705 households through the food bank and just through our mobile food share," said Jo-Ann Dorn, the program supervisor for East Hartford Health and Social Services. “In the first three months of this year, our food bank already served 3,762, which is more than the total for all of last year - and that was just for the first three months,” said Dorn. “Our numbers are just skyrocketing.”

The five food banks in town are located at Saint Isaac Jogues church, Saint Rose church, Saint Mary’s church and First Congregational Church.  South Congregational Church and Saint Christopher's share a food bank that operates out of South Congregational Church on Forbes Street.  The two churches rotate staffing duties on a monthly basis.

Dorn said residents who wish to utilize the food banks in town need to first register with Social Services at Town Hall.  “Residents need to come into our office because some of the food is provided by Foodshare and they have to fill out a federal form once a year,” said Dorn. “It’s just a self-declaration for the federal government because the Department of Agriculture funds some of the food that comes to the Foodshare.  And depending on what town the people live in, they’re referred to the food bank in their area.”

Dorn said residents can visit the food bank, “a maximum of once every 30 days if there is an emergency need.”

Morrison said once a week a volunteer from Saint Mary’s food bank will contact Social Services to get contact information for the people who will be utilizing the food bank and how many people are in the family and if they have any children. “Then they have an appointed time according to the volunteers' schedule to come and pick up the food, and we do give them a few choices, but it’s limited,” said Morrison.

Saint Mary’s food bank prepares a bag for each family that contains food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Morrison said each family will also receive a package of hot dogs and some meat. She also gives out toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.

Dorn said if residents are still in need of food in-between visits to the food banks, there is a Mobile Foodshare program in which food trucks visit a couple of locations in town every week. There are five distribution sites in town, with at least two distributions every week.  Social Services hosts two of the sites, which are located in public family housing complexes owned by the Housing Authority at Hockanum Park and Veteran’s Terrace. 

“The truck comes in from Foodshare... and they have all kinds of perishables, non-perishables, produce, bakery items; and all you do is bring a bag, you go through a line and you get your food,” said Dorn. She said they usually service between 120 and 300 people at each distribution point. 

The Friendship Center Soup Kitchen serves dinners on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, as well as a Sunday brunch. 

During the annual “Scouting for Food” drive on Saturday, Nov. 9, Boy Scouts from three troops across town collected plastic bags that had been distributed the week before so that residents could donate items for them to pick up.  Rich Beebe, who operates the food bank at First Congregational Church with his wife, Abbie, said they hadn’t had the drive in two years due to bad weather.

“The Scouts set up a route, an a schedule and the town is broken down into districts,” said Beebe, who explained that each troop is assigned a district and is responsible for collecting donations in that district. "So the whole town is covered and all of the food banks are covered.”

To donate to the food bank, make your check payable to “Food Bank” and drop it off at the Social Services office at Town Hall.

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