CHESHIRE — Executive Director Kerry Walsh walked past a wall of glass doors, behind which lettuce, meat, milk, eggs and other refrigerated and frozen items sit, before making her way to the largest room in the 6,000-square-foot building the Cheshire Community Food Bank calls home.
It resembles a small grocery store, complete with donated shopping carts, and rows of shelves, containing soup cans, cereal boxes, pasta, cleaning products, pet food and other items.
The food bank, which moved to Sandbank Road in 2016, serves 137 families in town, with about 250 clients visiting each week, Walsh estimated. The clients include young families with children, older adults who haven’t quite reached retirement age and senior citizens.
“The need is there. The need is great,” Walsh said, estimating there are at least another 130 families in town who qualify for food pantry aid, but don’t come.
“In general, we don’t think Cheshire is a needy community...but it’s difficult to be under the poverty level here,” she added.
Walsh, executive director since Sept. 30, previously worked with other area non-profit agencies. She doesn’t see the need for food going away any time soon.
“The clients that I’ve met, they’ve had to make difficult choices,” she said. “We do not want them to have to choose to use their money for food, home fuel, car insurance, etc.”
The Connecticut Food Bank, whose distribution center is in Wallingford, is the main supplier of food for more than 600 partner agencies across six counties, including the Cheshire Community Food Pantry.
In 2018, the Connecticut Food Bank distributed about 27 million pounds of food throughout Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London and Windham counties, explained the organization’s CEO Valarie Shultz-Wilson.
Shultz-Wilson estimates the food bank serves around 144,000 Connecticut residents each month.
The organization runs monthly pop-up mobile pantries in Wallingford and Bridgeport, Shultz-Wilson said. Last week, one pop-up pantry attracted about 350 families.
Most food insecure families are what Shultz-Wilson described as the “working poor,” meaning they may be working one or more jobs but their incomes can’t keep up with the costs of living.
“We don’t serve people who are just sitting around looking for a handout,”Shultz-Wilson said.
Robin Lamott Sparks, executive director of the non-profit organization End Hunger Connecticut!, said there are pockets of hunger in some of the state’s wealthiest communities, like Greenwich.
In Meriden, New Opportunities Inc. operates one of the city’s largest food pantries. There are at least five different pantries operated by churches and other non-profits altogether, estimates Ola Brown, the agency’s assistant director.
Brown said the need is so great for food that the pantry New Opportunities operates at 55 W. Main St. is open seven days a week.
“We serve anywhere from 40 to 50 people a day who come in for food,” Brown said. “When clients come in, they do not just get a bag of food. We make it a shopping experience. They go in, and help themselves to the things they need.”
The agency also provides heating, energy and rent assistance.
The next two months will be busy for pantries like those in Cheshire, Wallingford and Meriden.
Walsh anticipates the Cheshire Community Food Pantry will distribute roughly 140 dinners for Thanksgiving alone. Many of those donations will come from local churches and other organizations, which will sponsor their own drives.