Food banks in the Valley join forces to help fight hunger
The Valley’s five food banks came to the table Monday in partnership with Valley United Way to help end hunger here.
Thanks to a three-year, $42,000 grant from the Valley Community Foundation, efforts to raise awareness about food insecurity and help those in need is underway.
The grant will enable The Valley Council for Health and Human Services’ Food Task Force to hire a consultant to work with the food banks to standardize “best practices,” as well as increase support and engage the public in addressing food insecurity, according to VUW Volunteer Action Center Director Pat Tarasovic.
A food study was done in 2014 to look at hunger in the Valley, and while officials said hard figures on the actual need are tough to nail down because the food banks have different methods of reporting data, the fact that the food banks are continually running dry is an excellent indication that the problem exists.
For example, 50 percent to 60 percent of students in Ansonia and Derby are receiving free or reduced-price school lunches, compared with the state average of 24 percent, according to TEAM Inc. President/CEO David Morgan.
Morgan said tracking food distribution is difficult because one food bank reports data by number of meals served while another reports it by amount of bags or boxes handed out. But thanks to a recent donation of food scales from an anonymous donor, each of the food banks now will be on the same page, helping gather critical data.
Morgan said the food banks will work together and share information to ensure those in need are getting what they need, as well as address overall household well-being and help put people on a path to self-sufficiency and ultimately overcome food insecurity.
Remy Kocurek, director of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop and Food Bank in Derby, said her shop distributes food on a monthly basis, and based on input from clients, the reasons why people rely on donated food vary.
“Some clients may have a shortage of funds due to a health issue, or maybe they lost their job. … Often they have difficult choices to make like whether to put food on the table or get the medicine they need,” said Kocurek.
Susan Agamy, executive director of the Valley’s homeless shelter, the Spooner House and Valley Food Bank, said the need for food comes in “peaks and valleys.” She sees demand spike during school vacations and summer when kids are home. And while the public comes out in force to make donations during the Valley’s numerous food drives, for which Agamy is grateful , she said the cupboards get pretty bare this time of year.
“There is a year-round need for food,” Agamy said.
VUW President Sharon Gibson also announced the “Grow Your Own” community garden program will expand this year, providing nutritious fruits and vegetables to those in need. The program debuted in Ansonia and Derby last year, and the gardens will grow to locations in Seymour, as well as additional sites in Ansonia and Derby.
Tarasovic encouraged people to visit VUW’s website at http://valleyunitedway.org to find out how to help become part of making the Valley food secure, or to contact her at 203 926-9478.
Those who need help can contact the following Valley food banks:
Christ Episcopal Church Kathleen Samela Memorial Food Bank, 203 734-2751.
Salvation Army, 203 736-0707.
St. Vincent De Paul, 203 734-7577.
Seymour Oxford Food Bank, 203 888-7826.
Spooner House, 203 225-0453.