by ED HARRIS
The two Southington Home Depots recently ran a contest to see which store could collect the most food items for Southington Community Services. The businesses donated over 1,500 items at a time when the town department really needed the help.
“We’re doing a lot to reach out to the community,” said Nick Broska, manager of the South Southington Home Depot. “There are people in need out there. We want to do what we can to help.”
Broska said the contest lasted for two weeks and was only open to associates at the two Home Depots in town. All together, the associates were able to collect more than 1,525 food items, which were donated to Community Services on August 21.
The hardware and home improvement stores even donated the large cardboard boxes that the items were donated in.
Later this month, employees from both Home Depots will participate in a community services project at the Community Services Department. These projects range from fixing shelving units to other smaller renovations.
“Home Depot really took me off guard,” said Community Services Director Janet Mellon. “It was incredible.”
Mellon said that the donation came at a “crucial” time as food reserves are getting low. She said the Home Depot donations were almost half gone a little more than a week after they were received.
The Community Services Department is looking to begin a new program by the beginning of the year that would allow for businesses and organizations in town to have a food drive one week out of the year. If 52 businesses were to step up, that would mean approx. one food drive and donation to the department every week.
“We need a food drive every week,” Mellon said. “We need a constant donation.”
Some of the items needed included peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, tuna fish, canned meals, fruits and cereals, juice boxes and healthy kid’s snacks.
Southington Community Services also spends $40,000 a year through Foodshare.
Other food pantries in the region are also feeling the food pinch. It’s the end of summer, and fall is around the corner, which means so are the holidays. Typically for the local food pantries, the holidays mean donations of food and funds to help provide to others in need.
“We are very low on many items,” said Shirley Dickau, who is the director for Meals for the Needy at Zion Lutheran Church in Bristol. Dickau said the program has a food drive every May which usually carries the pantry through the summer and part of the fall, however this year she said “donations have been decreasing, and needs are increasing, dramatically.”
The Meals for the Needy program offers a four nights per week soup kitchen, Dickau said, and Zion Lutheran Church also has a food pantry by appointment. She said in the beginning of the year, the program was providing about 100 meals a night, towards the end of each month. Now, she said, it isn’t unheard of to be serving 100 meals on nights throughout the whole month.
“Clients are increasing over the summer because children are out of school, and aren’t getting meals in school,” Dickau said. Right now, Zion Lutheran is accepting any kind of donation, from cans of tuna, beef stew, soup, baked beans, cold cereal, macaroni and cheese and fruit. Now that school has started, she added that snacks for school lunches are going to be needed. The program always accepts monetary donations as well, as it does not receive any state aid. She added that she had received a letter from Foodshare, an organization that provides goods to local food pantries, stating it was seeing a low supply, which means it wouldn’t be able to provide as much to food pantries as it has in the past.
The program at Zion Lutheran Church is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, of its opening. It began as a one evening per week soup kitchen, with 10 people in attendance, and has grown ever since.
Over at the Christian Fellowship Center in Bristol, Michelle Palmer, promotions director, said the center has been seeing new faces at its storehouse each week.
“We have been low on donations, and even Foodshare has seen a decline on its products,” Palmer said. She added that at the end of the month, and beginning of October, the center will start registering clients for Thanksgiving, which is a time when food pantries need donations the most.
The Christian Fellowship Center is always accepting food, clothing and monetary donations to support its three-day per week soup kitchen and its food pantry, which is available on Wednesdays. Right now, the Christian Fellowship Center is needing chicken and any kind of frozen meat, drinks for its volunteers, coffee, snacks for school lunches, and cleaning supplies, like bleach, window cleaner and dusting materials.
“It’s been a struggle,” Palmer said, adding that companies and businesses also have the option to form partnerships with the Christian Fellowship Center.
At the Plainville Community Food Pantry, Executive Director Susie Woerz said donations have been down all summer, aside from some community events that were beneficial to the food pantry.
“We’ve been very lucky to have the community we have,” she said.
However there is still a great need in Plainville. Just before school started, the food pantry held its back to school drive, which helped 110 children, who all received free hair cuts from the International Institute of Cosmetology in Plainville.
“Our need is greater than ever,” she said, especially since the pantry is starting to prepare for the fall and winter. She added that 75 percent of donations are community based.
In Plainville, items that are needed include peanut butter, rice and potato products (boxed), hamburger helper, juice boxes, pasta sauce, cleaning products, gravy and condiments, and also non-food items like shampoo, dish soap and laundry detergent.
A report from reporter Kaitlyn Naples was used in this article.