Coordinators and volunteers of FAITH Food Pantry gathered for a dinner recently that was both celebratory and a little somber at the same time. The June 5 event, a potluck supper in the undercroft of St John’s Episcopal Church in Sandy Hook, was a celebration of three decades of the food pantry being able to provide food for Newtown residents who need a hand putting food on their table. Unfortunately, as Co-chairs Lee Paulsen and Nancy Taylor both pointed out, the need is still there.
Fifteen families were helped on a recent Thursday night. Residents can visit the church’s undercroft, where the food pantry operates out of, on Tuesday mornings between 10 am and noon, and Thursdays from 6 to 8 pm. Barbara Krell is the third co-chair for the pantry, which also counts on pennywise shoppers as well as those who work at the pantry itself to keep the process operating.
“We have been shopping hard and fast,” said Mrs Paulsen, “but there haven’t been enough donations” to keep shelves fully stocked for months. Incoming donations have been “extremely slow since December,” she said. The number of people who seek help from the pantry has been creeping up again, she said.
“We provide food for nearly 5,000 meals per week,” said Mrs Paulsen. Volunteers plan for three meals per day per family member.
“The entrees may have to be stretched,” she admitted, “but we make sure there’s enough to stretch.”
Although it operates out of the church, the pantry’s acronym is a little misleading. The pantry offers Food Assistance for Immediate but Temporary Help. FAITH is a nonecumenical offering.
Meanwhile, the gathering was meant to celebrate that scores of volunteers continue to show up at the pantry each Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon. For two hours each of those days, volunteers receive and sort donations. They also help bag or box up items for those who visit the Washington Avenue food pantry, who ask for a hand and only need to show ID to prove their residence. FAITH volunteers have never asked for proof of need.
“The volunteers are just so phenomenal,” said Mrs Taylor. “I can’t even begin to tell you. They are so dedicated. It’s almost a social club, of very hard workers.”
Mrs Taylor said there have been times when, once a two-hour shift has ended, she and others will go out for coffee nearby and continue talking.
“We sometimes go to lunch,” she said. “I just want to spend more time with them. There is a lot of compassion in this group. There always has been.”
Some of the volunteers, Mrs Taylor said, have been with the food pantry since its inception in 1983.
“It’s easy to be burned out, especially with the numbers we are dealing with now,” said Mrs Taylor. “But these people have not given up. They keep coming back, and inspiring the rest of us.”
The gathering on June 5 opened with social time, as guests arrived with their appetizers, entrees, and desserts to share. Approximately 30 people attended the dinner. A brief history of the food pantry was planned, targeting the newest volunteers — “We want them to understand the legacy of this place,” Mrs Taylor said — and then everyone was going to share food and conversation.
All of the food for the recent Tuesday night meal, the women were quick to point out, was brought in by the volunteers. None of the food from the pantry was used for the social occasion.