Free apples ready to be loaded into cars at Rentschler Field. Andrew Janavey Foodshare

By Dawn Grant
Senior Community Impact Officer
Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

They struggle to make impossible decisions: whether to buy food, pay for heat or make the rent. Since the beginning of the COVID public health and economic crises, thousands of families have joined countless other Greater Hartford residents who had already been engaged in this juggling act to make ends meet.

Food insecurity among low-income residents, particularly residents of color, was well documented before the pandemic; existing systemic barriers have prevented many individuals from accessing basic needs for themselves and their families.  These barriers have created persistent health and well-being disparities for many Black and Latinx residents as well as other people of color in Greater Hartford and beyond. Often people who work full time still do not earn enough to cover the cost of necessities such as food, housing and utilities. According to Feeding America, “many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and need to rely on their local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for support.”

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s commitment to basic human needs is focused on improving the lives of residents throughout the Hartford region. We support nonprofits in their vital, on-the-ground work to help prevent people from losing their jobs, falling into homelessness or facing another day without food. Our support for basic human needs is critical to advancing all of the outcomes to which we seek to contribute. Without access to the necessities (including the internet), we cannot expect children to succeed in school or adults to care for themselves and their families. For example, a recent Foundation-sponsored study on chronic absenteeism found that hunger contributed to students not consistently attending school; this was before COVID exacerbated these same issues.

The Holcomb Farm Fresh Access Program, in partnership with Wheeler Clinic, provided community members with fresh produce to patients. Photo courtesy of Holcomb Farm. courtesy of Holcomb Farm.

COVID has revealed that losing a single paycheck can lead to food insecurity, as income is one of the most important the social determinants of health. The most recent data from DataHaven shows that 27 percent of Latinx residents and 22 percent of Black residents of Connecticut experienced food insecurity at some point in 2020, compared to nine percent of white residents.

Katie Martin, Executive Director of the Institute for Hunger Research & Solutions at Connecticut Food Bank / Foodshare, recently published the book, Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries: New Tools to End Hunger. She writes that “COVID-19 underscores structural inequalities in our society and the reality that millions of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. It has become clear that people of color face a triple threat of being more at risk for food insecurity, more likely to lose their jobs during COVID-19, and more susceptible to the disease.”

The Institute’s survey of people receiving food from the Foodshare drive-through distribution at Rentschler Field in 2020 revealed that 70 percent of households said they had lost a job or had their hours cut, the same percentage of households reported having never been to a food pantry before. Survey results also indicated that 69 percent of respondents reported being forced to choose between buying food and paying their bills due to coronavirus.

Cars lined up to receive food during a drive-through distribution event in 2020. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Food Bank/Foodshare Photographer Andrew Janavey. Andrew Janavey.

Connecticut Food Bank / Foodshare partners with neighborhood-based food pantries, including those in Hartford where approximately 40 percent of residents don’t have cars to bring them to large distribution centers.  Faith-based organizations run many of these neighborhood food pantries, and in recognition of their importance as an essential partner in responding to vital needs, the Hartford Foundation recently changed a longstanding grantmaking policy, opening the door for faith-based organizations to receive Foundation grants.

But there is still more work to be done. COVID has shown that waiving federal and state requirements allows more children access to a meal. Recently, the Foundation offered testimony in support of legislation that would require the Department of Social Services to reduce paperwork requirements for community providers applying to participate in the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program. This change would not only reduce barriers to providing all of our residents with food in times of crisis, but also reduce the burden on those who are providing critical services.

The Hartford Foundation continues to invest in our nonprofit partners’ efforts to raise awareness of food insecurity and its correlation to the social determinants of health and begin to eliminate unnecessary administrative barriers that prevent access. Working alongside federal, state and local elected officials, advocates, philanthropy, residents and other stakeholders, the Foundation is committed to ensuring that no resident of the Hartford region goes to bed hungry.