Town social services director Peg Molina
said her department's pantry shelves are nearly bare, so she and her staff are asking residents to help their less fortunate neighbors.
"I want people to know that in our community we have a real affordability issue,'' Molina said. "Living in Connecticut is difficult when you are on the lower end of wages in a lot of service jobs that drive our economy -- people who are school bus drivers, paraeducators, bank tellers, do lawn maintenance, clean houses, even store clerks who process the very groceries we buy and they might need.''
In the fall and winter months, particularly around holidays and scheduled food drives, the food pantry and co-op are relatively well-filled because school, civic and church groups make regular donations, Molina said.
In the summer, though, most of those groups are on summer hiatus, and pantry provisions drop to the bare minimum, she said.
Molina's office had a call this week from a woman who was adding water to her juice supply to make it stretch. "And that was a meal," Molina said.
Every week, the social services staff and volunteers help some 90 to 100 local, income-eligible families -- including parents with young children -- with a bag of grocery items they would otherwise be unable to afford, social worker Ivana Butera
The department's total list has 350 families, or at least 700 individuals, she said.
Most of the families the department serves supplement their income with food stamps, items they obtain through the social services department, or through a private food pantry, such as Our Daily Bread.
The latter is open Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. through the New Milford United Methodist Church
. It is open to anyone and serves some 2,500 to 3,000 meals a month, volunteer organizer Hank LeMien
Our Daily Bread accepts donations from church and community members, with about 80 percent of its stock coming through the Connecticut Food Bank
For most income-strapped families, healthy meals and personal-care items are a luxury, Molina and Butera said. Food stamps can only be used for food, and families are given a limited supply, Butera said.
"It sometimes comes as a shock to people that there are New Milfordites who are hungry, but it's true,'' Molina said.
The social services food pantry needs nonperishable staples such as pasta and sauce, macaroni and cheese, canned meats, canned vegetables and fruits, soups, packaged cereals and snack foods. It also needs personal hygiene items and household supplies. "All things we just take for granted," Molina said.
Anyone wishing to help restock the pantry can take items to the second floor of the Richmond Community Center
on Main Street from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
For more information, call the social services department at (860) 355-6079.