NORWICH — At St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich, 916 families found help at the food pantry this November. Last year, the pantry served 701 families in November, typically the busiest month, according to Tim Hathaway, marketing coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul Place.
The nonprofit, which is a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Norwich, also distributed an average of 390 meals a day in November through their Community Meals program, which offers breakfast and lunch six days a week. And people made about 172 visits to the food pantry each day in November, up almost 40 percent from the 124 visits people made each day last November.
“COVID has exacerbated the problems that we see in our communities, and food insecurity has definitely worsened in our region since the pandemic and economic slowdown began,” Hathaway said. “For us, that means our services are much more needed.”
Increased need has meant increased costs for St. Vincent de Paul, which has also had additional costs to make their community meal service safer during the COVID pandemic.
St. Vincent de Paul receives most of its food from the Gemma E. Moran United Way – Labor Food Bank, as well as from donations by supermarkets, organizations and individual people, but this year St. Vincent’s has been buying more food of its own to meet the increased need, said Hathaway.
Hathaway said that rising food prices, and limited availability have been a challenge, but that local restaurants have been generous in donating meals, which helps lessen the cost to St. Vincent de Paul.
St. Vincent’s major cost, Hathaway said, is packaging meals for takeout.
The organization estimates an additional cost of about $1,829 per week for additional food, takeout containers, PPE and additional cleaning supplies needed to keep up with the increased demand and realities of serving food during the pandemic, Hathaway said.
They spend $1,430 a week on “clam shell” containers, cups and bowls with lids, and plastic cutlery and bags.
Over a three-month period, additional costs including PPE have amounted to about $23,777.
“It’s off the charts, because we of course didn’t anticipate this at the beginning of the year when we thought about budget planning,” he said.
Fundraising and donations
The Charter Oak Matching Gift program helped put a dent in those costs, with St. Vincent de Paul received $8,050 in donations, including a one-for-one match from Charter Oak Credit Union of all donations individuals made through the program.
When they appeared to be about 50 turkeys short of their goal two weeks from Thanksgiving, they put out a call for donations on social media and exceeded their targets within four days, Hathaway said.
“The community has really been responding,” Hathaway said. “We found that so many people want to give, and they’re so generous.”
The Charter Oak matching program also made a total of $400,000 in donations to 282 other charities and nonprofits, including the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation in New London, the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, the Friends of Assisi Food Pantry in Danielson, and the Windham Region No Freeze Project in Willimantic.
Tony Cronin, Charter Oak’s marketing director, said that for two year the credit union held a “$100,000 in 100 days” matching program, where the credit union will match $100,000 of donations to community organizations. The program was expanded to a $200,000 match each of the past three years because so many people were donating, he said.
The community meals are served to anyone who comes to St. Vincent de Paul Place, no questions asked. There are some requirements for the food pantry, for which eligibility is based on income or government benefits the person is receiving, Hathaway said. The organization also has a case manager who helps people transitioning from living without a home or who are dealing with drug addiction.
St. Vincent de Paul can’t accept clothing or furniture, but they accept all donations of unopened and unexpired food, as well as produce from gardens. They are always in need of staple items like canned foods, peanut butter, tuna and pasta, and also keep an up-to-date blog of current food needs.
The organization also accepts donations of pet foods and some household items for people who are transitioning into permanent housing, like dishes, pots and pans. They also collect personal hygiene products.