SOUTHINGTON — Tops Marketplace will be matching all donations made at a food drive outside the grocery store this weekend, an effort designed to give back to the community that helped the business recover from a devastating fire in 2019.
“The community really helped us out when we lost the store. The place burned down and everyone rallied and we want to give back,” said John Salerno, owner of the grocery store at 887 Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike.
The drive, sponsored by the Southington Rotary Club, will collect for the food pantry run by the Southington Community Services Department from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Shoppers will be given a list of foods in short supply and all items donated will be matched by Tops.
As the community stepped in with donations for reconstruction and to support Tops workers, Salerno pledged to return the generosity.
“We’re happy to do it, happy to help in any way that we can. The pandemic really hurt most people, but in our case people still had to go food shopping, so it didn't hurt us as much,” he said.
Community Services Director Janet Mellon said Tops has always been a big supporter of the food pantry. When her staff go to local grocery stores to purchase food items they’re short on, the business will sometimes only charge them for a fraction of what they bring to the register.
Mellon said because of the matching she’s set an aggressive goal for this year’s donations — 1,500 pounds of food. Past food drives at Tops have raised around 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.
The food drives allow the food pantry to acquire items it’s often unable to purchase wholesale from the Connecticut Food Bank in Wallingford, which supplies the majority of its staples like meat products.
“If we didn't have continual food drives and individuals giving food we would probably have to spend triple what we spend, so it’s critical,” Mellon said.
The need for food drives has only increased as the pandemic made it difficult for food pantries to source products from shuttered restaurants and grocery stores with bare shelves, and with more families in need than ever, said Rotary Club member Kristy Kuriger.
“Especially with COVID and folks losing income there’s many families that would never have to use the food pantry...but some families have really found themselves in really dire straits,” she said.
Kuriger helps organize the three to four food drives the Rotary Club holds at local grocery stores each year.
“The last few times we’ve done the food drive people run in and they come right out with a big bag and they have two items in their hand, and I think they’re going to give us the two items, but they give us the big bag,” she said.