SOUTHINGTON — A family of snowmen crafted out of tires is encouraging passersby on Edgewood Circle to drop non-perishables in a donation bin for Bread for Life.
“I figured if I could do something fun that doesn’t cost a lot of money, I could find a way to give back to the community,” said Jennifer Jacovino Baptiste, who began putting the display out in 2018 and added a donation bin last year.
Using her experience upcycling items for her organization and decluttering business Ace of Space, Baptiste has been growing the display each year by adding tires and decorations she creates. This year it features eight snowmen gathered around a plastic campfire, with festive lights which automatically turn on every night to illuminate the display.
The snowmen are made out of car and bike tires stacked on top of each other, with the varying sizes creating the snowman look. Each year she repaints the snowmen white and adds decorations like old hats, scarves and gloves. Her son Jaiden keeps an eye out for the tires and she’ll drive around town collecting them throughout the year.
After the pandemic reduced how much work there was for her to do through her business, Baptiste found herself in a tough financial spot. Recognizing that many in town were having the same experiences, she added a donation bin when she put out her display last year. By the time she took down the display in mid-January, she had collected around 800 pounds of non-perishables, which she donated to the Bread for Life food pantry.
Baptiste believes many residents don’t realize that there are people who struggle to pull together the money for grocery shopping in their neighborhoods. Along with helping neighbors who might be struggling as she has, she hopes to reduce the stigma some feel when needing to rely on a food pantry.
“The food’s getting to the people in the local area. Other people may not think that there is a problem, you know times were tough for me last year when I wasn't working,” she said. “ … It’s something that shouldn't be shameful.”
Southington Community Services Director Janet Mellon said neighborhood food drives are some of the most powerful ways food pantries can collect non-perishables for their clients. Being able to donate the food through someone they know tends to encourage residents to collect a greater variety of food, allowing the food pantry to stock items they normally wouldn’t see come in directly from grocery stores. They also make residents more aware of the need in their neighborhoods.
“Usually neighborhood food drives are the best food drives … it makes people aware — some of the neighbors — how lucky are we that we don't necessarily have to ask for food and when they do ask for food let's give them a nice variety,” Mellon said.
Though the food Baptiste is raising will be going to Bread for Life, she also donates furniture and other miscellaneous items clients of her business have given her to Southington Community Services.
The holidays are an especially important time for food drives, Mellon said, as residents face rising energy and heating costs in the colder months at the same time they try to buy presents or host holiday meals for children and family members. Those who start up their own food drives are a crucial part of their efforts to give a little extra food out at the pantry around the holidays and their donations are all the more generous since client confidentiality means they don’t even meet the people they’re helping.
“It's people like Jennifer and these small neighborhood groups that make a huge difference here and I don't know if they realize,” Mellon said. “ … they'll never see the smile when people say ‘Do you have this?’ and I say ‘Oh we do.’”