WALLINGFORD — Masonicare delivered 5,488 pounds of food, plus a monetary donation of $1,364, to Connecticut Food Bank headquarters Tuesday.
The food and monetary donation, collected in a month-long drive, will enable the food bank to provide 7,300 meals, according to calculations by the food bank.
Masonicare organized the drive after a visiting nurse told staff at Masonicare her story about getting into the wrong line while seeking a COVID-19 test.
J.P. Venoit, Masonicare CEO, related the story Tuesday, saying the nurse was waiting in a line of cars in early December when suddenly the drivers around her started popping their trunks.
She had inadvertently gotten in line for food distribution, and was amazed at the number of people who needed assistance.
“She talked a lot about how long the lines were and seeing all those people,” Venoit said. “We thought it was a great opportunity for people, who had been sitting at home with nothing to do, to say, ‘is there something I can do?’”
Masonicare set up donation boxes throughout its campuses, collecting donations through the month of December from residents and employees.
A fill-the-shuttle event on Saturday and Sunday at East Center Market brought in even more food, personal care items and monetary donations, including help from several lodges and fraternal organizations.
Venoit said they waited to hold the East Center Market food drive until after Christmas, recognizing that donating is an evergreen desire, not just around the holidays.
The 25-passenger shuttle van and box truck delivered the donations to the Connecticut Food Bank’s headquarters in Wallingford on Tuesday.
It took about a dozen volunteers half an hour to empty the vehicles.‘A significant increase’
Paul Shipman, spokesman for the Connecticut Food Bank, said Tuesday that during the last six months of 2020, the food bank distributed about 15 percent more food than the same period in 2019.
“It’s a significant increase in food, but it's also with all the restrictions that COVID has put into place,” he said.
Delivery to the food bank and subsequent pick-up by local food pantries, which distribute the food to the public, has changed operationally as social distancing measures took hold, increasing the amount of work for everyone.
An average of 175,000 people a month are visiting the food bank’s network of distribution sites, which is more than 30,000 people a month above what the average was at the beginning of the pandemic, Shipman said.
“The numbers are startling,” he said.
Shipman said that even when people return to work, they may be dealing with debt and still need assistance.
“The visibility of this drive is wonderful for us,” he said. “It helps remind people we’re a year into this (pandemic) and the need is just isn’t going anywhere.”‘Anxiety is high’
One of the local pantries that receives assistance from the Connecticut Food Bank is Master's Manna, 428 S. Cherry St.
Wallingford has a 4 percent poverty rate and an 8.9 percent food insecurity rate, according to a 2018 survey by Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks.
Food insecurity happens when people don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.
Meriden, a community which Master’s Manna also serves, has a 12.5 percent poverty rate and 12.4 percent food insecurity rate.
On Tuesday, Master's Manna staff and volunteers were performing their renewal process for clients that happens at the beginning of every year, updating addresses and other information.
“We’ve got a lot food in the warehouse,” Sue Heald, Master's Manna food pantry manager said, “and I've got access to a lot of food, but we know our numbers should be increasing.”
She said that she’s been hearing concerns from clients about their kids’ schools, job searches and various types of benefits that have yet to kick in.
“It just seems like there’s a lot of waiting going on,” she said. “Everybody’s trying to be patient. You can just feel the anxiety is high. If we can take the edge off by helping folks out with some food, this is what we do.”