Power outage compounds seasonal demand at food pantries

Pre-Thanksgiving pleas for donations from food banks and pantries are a familiar part of the season, but organizers say the rare October snow storm causing massive power outages will compound the demand this year, and some may struggle to fill empty shelves.

Gloria McAdam serves as president of Foodshare, a Connecticut food distribution bank that provides food for pantries, soup kitchens and community centers in Hartford and Tolland counties. McAdam said 80 percent of Foodshare’s stock comes from donations by food companies, many of which lost power for days after the snowstorm.

“Many food pantries and community kitchens will have to discard food after the power has been out,” she said. “We also think donations from food companies will be down for similar reasons, so we’re expecting a big jump in demand over the next few weeks.”


Five Corner Cupboard in East Windsor

McAdam said Foodshare received a donation last Friday of 12,000 relief packages from Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to ending hunger. The relief packages will go to food pantries across the state that need to replenish stocks. In disaster relief efforts, Feeding America assesses which food banks across the country can afford donations and helps reallocate those resources to affected areas.

McAdam said many relying on Foodshare’s distribution locations lack their own supply of emergency food at home and lost what they had to power outages, causing high demand as food pantries regain power just in time for the beginning of the holiday season.

Brian Boyer, the director of marketing communications for the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, said Foodshare works as one their partner agencies. He said Foodshare also expects to lose donations from grocery stores for about a week or two.

Those affected by the storm and power outages could call the United Way’s 2-1-1 service for information including food and shelter availability. Boyer said United Way 2-1-1 received about 4,300 from October 29 to November 4. On just Monday, October 31, about 2,650 people called, believed to be the highest single-day total in Connecticut United Way’s history.

Mary Ingarra, the communications director for the Connecticut Food Bank, said she also anticipates supply issues following the storm, although their main warehouse in East Haven avoided losing power. CFB supplies about 600 pantries and agencies in six of Connecticut’s eight counties through warehouses in East Haven, Waterbury and Fairfield.

Ingarra said the Waterbury and Fairfield warehouses lost power. They were able to transfer a lot of frozen food to the East Haven warehouse, but still lost fresh produce. Feeding America donated about 25 pallets representing 32,000 pounds of food to CFB, including cereal, peanut butter, soups and other readily packaged meals and assorted dried goods. Ingarra said CFB received the shipment Friday and already distributed many of the supplies.

Some of CFB’s donor food companies also provided disaster relief packages. For example, Crystal Rock donated bottled water and other companies provided juice and Gatorade. The Connecticut National Guard provided CFB with MREs, or ready-to-eat meals. Governor Dannel P. Malloy asked the CT National Guard to deliver about 34,000 cases of MREs and 34,000 cases of water to about 85 towns after power outages devastated the region.

Many pantries that fared better than others became widely-used resources, sometimes spread thin. Marie Groves works as a co-coordinator for the Five Corner Cupboard at the First Congregational Church of East Windsor, a pantry that avoided a substantial loss. She said they opened the pantry doors for the first time Tuesday after losing power for a week. She said the pantry normally opens for three mornings per week and serves between 10 and 40 families on any given morning.

“We had to close down distribution for two days last week,” she said. “We didn’t fare too bad, but we’re expecting it to be busier than normal.”

Groves said they donated most of their most perishable items to soup kitchens that lost food and to East Windsor High School, which acted as a shelter through the majority of the power outages.

Boyer said the Amazing Grace Food Distribution/DePaul Place in Middletown received many calls from outside towns as far as 20 miles away in Glastonbury. Many of the calls came from women with infants and children, he said, and many of the Amazing Grace volunteers didn’t have power themselves while they continued to work to serve others.

Cheryl Bedore works for Master’s Manna in Wallingford, a resource center supplying food, clothing and hygiene services for those in need. She said they never lost power, but many people and soup kitchens in neighboring towns like Meriden did, causing a huge surge in people seeking services.

“We were able to warm a lot of people up,” she said. “And our showers were very, very busy.”

Mary Ann Sharp handles donations for Master’s Manna. She said post-storm, they already have over 600 families to serve for Thanksgiving, where last year they served about 450.