The undying generosity of local organizations and residents has kept the Pantry well stocked during the summer months. But, with the nation’s turbulent economy, it’s hardly surprising that the New Canaan's Food Pantry has needed to stash food for more clients than ever before.
The Food Pantry—not to be confused with the Lower Fairfield County Food Bank, which, with the help of those generous residents and local organizations, also supplies food to the Food Pantry—saw a record number of clientele at their bi-weekly supply pick-ups during the month of July. Only New Canaan residents are eligible to utilize the town's Food Pantry.
Last month, 146 New Canaan residents—67 adults, 61 children and 18 senior citizens—qualified for vouchers that would then allow them to pick-up at least five bags each full of everything from pasta and tuna fish to toiletries and cleaning supplies. The ration, according to Aggie Aspinwall, Administrative Assistant at the New Canaan Human Services Department, breaks down to about 10 meals per person for two weeks.
Last month's figures are almost twice the number who qualified for food pantry vouchers in July 2008 when 83 residents—30 adults, 40 children and 13 seniors—were eligible to pick-up groceries from the undercroft of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where the pantry is located.
“The economy has definitely affected families in New Canaan,” Aspinwall said. “A lot of people who come in here are here because of loss of jobs—people we’ve never seen before. We’ve never seen this kind of drastic increase”
In order to qualify for a voucher that will, in turn, grant eligible clients those hearty bags of groceries, New Canaan residents must go through an application process in which they provide Human Services with, among other things, financial information.
“A family could be going through the loss of a parent or living on Social Security Income,” she said. “Every person has a different situation," Aspinwall said.
New Canaan isn’t the only town seeing this sort of drastic increase in residents in need of food aid. The economic downturn has plagued residents throughout the state of Connecticut so remarkably that Governor Rell was prompted to act.
The Governor announced in a statement that, as of July 1, more Connecticut households would be able to apply for federal food assistance as a result of a direction she gave the Department of Social Services to expand eligibility by raising income levels and dropping a review of assets that was required by select families in order to qualify for the program.
The state is using $4.8 million in federal stimulus funds for the program.
State and federal aid is injected into organizations including the Lower Fairfield Food Bank, which then allows organizations like New Canaan’s Food Pantry (which receives no state or federal aid) to purchase food in bulk for a cheaper price, Aspinwall said.
And now, with the recent addition of a vegetable garden in the backyard of St. Mark’s, the many clients that drop in to pick up their food at the Food Pantry are able to look forward to homegrown treats as well.
"Now, [clients] get fresh, homegrown vegetables from our vegetable garden,” Thea McGee, St. Mark’s Parish Secretary, said. “We got the idea when Mrs. Obama started a food vegetable garden at the White House."
The garden, which sprouts veggies such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, is maintained by Pantry volunteers who, according to McGee, are sworn to a vow of secrecy to see that the identity of all clients is kept confidential.
“There are people who live in fancy houses that now need to get food from us,” McGee said. “It could be you and it could be me.”