On September 1st, the Connecticut Food Bank (CFB) begins its "Hunger Action" month and the CTbites team is asking your help. Food is our passion and we thank our lucky stars that we are privileged to dine at the fabulous restaurants of Fairfield County and blog about truffle chips, sous vide lamb belly and Marscapone cheese cake. Last week I volunteered at the CFB's mobile pantry where we gave out bags of onions and carrots to too many CT residents whose stars are not so lucky. But the CFB is making a difference and so can we.
According to Nancy Carrington, the Food Bank's president and CEO since 1984, over 400,000 CT residents are "Food Insecure." That means that they are not sure where they are getting their next meal. Over 50% of these people are above what the government considers the income threshold which would allow them SNAP funding (formerly known as food stamps.) In the state with the highest per capita income (2010), that is surely 400,000 hungry residents too many. Right???
When you walk into the head office of the CFB, a private, non-profit organization with headquarters in East Haven, you can see their mission statement staring you in the face - clear and simple. Our Mission - To Alleviate Hunger. That's a bold and courageous mission and they are doing their damndest to achieve it. For the last 27 years, Ms. Carrington, her paid staff of 52 along with countless volunteers (over 1500 last year!) supply over 600 hunger relief organizations; these include soup kitchens, food pantries, as well as adult and child day care centers. They work closely with Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. And now, with a financial boost from the 2009 Recovery and Reinvestment Act, they run the mobile pantries, one of which I had the privilege to witness in action. I was at the one in Bridgeport where locals from the area lined up, baskets ready, to receive whatever the refrigerated truck was packed with that day- carrots, onions, yogurt, frozen pasta. The staff, along with about 10 volunteers, handed out a share of each item to grandmothers with their grandchildren, pregnant mothers, elderly men in wheelchairs. A little 8 year old girl asked me if her brother could take a bag of carrots, too. Break my heart...
Just a couple of questions: Does your child tell you what he or she wants packed in the lunch box? Does your child know where his/her next meal will come from? In our state, 1 child in 6 does not. But the Ct Food Bank is doing what it can to change this statistic. With the "Back Pack" program, the CFB helps over 2000 Connecticut school kids. On Fridays during the school year, the backpacks of children who qualify for the "Back Pack" program are surreptitiously removed from these kids' lockers and packed with 10 food items which help to tide them over for the weekend. These items may include milk, juice, cereal, fruit and entrees. Then, so as not to embarrass the child, the backpacks are put back in the lockers before the class returns from recess. Without this program, weekends could mean empty bellies. Yes. In our backyard. Come on!!! But the "Back Pack" program is there to help.
And luckily, that's not all. The CFB has partnered with many local and national vendors, many of whom now donate generously. The food industry is the largest supplier of food for the bank (about 3% comes from food drives and 1/3 of the bulk comes from the federal government through TEFAP -The Emergency Food Assistance Program. ) Stop and Shop, Trader Joe's and Walmart are some of the larger companies that help and many local farmers also contribute generously. Egg farmers donate thousands of eggs during the Easter season. This year, the wonderful people at Hallock Orchards in Washington Depot are donating their entire apple crop to the Bank. A local New Haven bakery, Chabasso, donates fresh, Artisan bread, with no preservatives, DAILY. And do you ever wonder about ALL that meat in your grocer's butcher section that is approaching expiration? Ms Carrington and her staff wondered about that, too. Now, Stop and Shop donates all meat that is about to expire. The CFB freezes the meat immediately, and then it is given to the various food banks with the instruction that the meat is to be used the day it is defrosted. Presto. Ms Carrington, who worked in the private food industry before getting her MBA and switching over to the Bank, also noticed how much food was wasted due to cosmetic flaws. Now, perfectly good food and paper goods (which are NOT allowed to be purchased with SNAP funds) with misspelled labels and/or slightly flawed packaging are sent to the Bank and distributed to those in need. Seems so simple...
So what can we do? A lot. As it states in their newsletter, the CFB solicits the food industry for excess product and participates in community and corporate food drives. These are all things we can do. The CFB promotes public awareness about the problem of hunger and, with this awareness, bloggers like us and readers like you can be proactive and get involved. Here's how: Give food - by holding a food drive at your office or by donating directly to the food bank. Give time - by volunteering at special events or at one of the warehouse locations in Fairfield, Waterbury or the main site in East Haven. Give money - as every $1 you give provides $5 worth of food at wholesale value. Give voice - because by speaking about the causes of hunger and its impact on society, "...you become part of the solution..." Truth? No one in our state should be hungry.
And...There is an incredibly informative section for your kids on the CFB's fantastic web page, www.ctfoodbank.org, where you child can learn about hunger in a benign yet informative way. The site also offers some wonderful ways for your kids to get involved and make a difference. Go to the web page, click on the "Hunger" tab near the top and scroll down to " For Kids." Here's a true story about some kids that wanted to get involved. Two 6 year old girls that we know, who shall remain nameless but of whom we are VERY proud, decided to do their part by making "duct tape" bracelets and setting up a stand on the corner of a street. Fact -they didn't charge money but asked for donations for the CFB. Fact - the bracelets were...well...made by 6 year old girls. Fact- the girls lasted about 26 minutes in the hot sun before they needed a lemonade. Fact - they raised $32. Fact - according to the CFB newsletter, that is more than enough to feed someone in need for a month.
As "Hunger Action" month continues, look out for more blogs by our ctbites contributors. Please go to the website and take a look at all the GREAT events that the CFB has in store for September by going to the "Events" tab. CTbites thanks the Connecticut Food Bank for everything they do for our community and for inspiring us to take a stand against hunger in our state.