This Labor Day weekend, volunteers said they are hoping to bring some much needed attention to the issue of hunger.
As difficult financial times persist, more families are using the local food pantries, the volunteers said.
"When we all thought the recession was happening last year, we weren't really seeing it yet," said Lee Paulsen, who runs the FAITH food pantry at St. John's Episcopal Church in Sandy Hook. "It's here now."
FAITH food pantry has already given out more food the first eight months of 2010 than all of 2009.
Originally standing for Food Assistance Immediate Temporary Help, FAITH is now known as Food Assistance In Time of Need but continues to use the FAITH acronym. The volunteer group aims to supply clients with one week's worth of food. After proving residency, clients may return once a month.
"People cry when they come in and hug you when they leave," said Paulsen, who has been volunteering at the pantry for 27 years.
A few years ago, Linda Lubinsky read about FAITH and wanted to help. She and her daughter Breanne started collecting canned food at the Labor Day parade.
"I literally woke up one morning with the idea," said Lubinsky of her One Can Make(s) a Difference campaign, which started two years ago.
The Lubinskys ask each family watching the parade to bring a nonperishable food item. The One Can group travels the parade route in an orange truck and collects the donations, then delivers the goods to FAITH.
"People don't realize how much of a demand there is," said Breanne, a 17-year-old senior at Newtown High School. "Your kids may be sitting next to a student who hasn't had breakfast that morning or dinner the night before."
The 2000 Census counted 758 individuals in Newtown living below the poverty line. Numbers from the 2010 Census are not yet available.
Although FAITH has seen an increase in families seeking assistance, Ann Piccini of Newtown's Social Services says her numbers have stayed relatively the same but the clients have changed.
"We've seen a lot of people having to move out of town," she said, adding that there are three evictions — one rental and two homes — coming up next week.
The Salvation Army supplies food and money for the town pantry, which is run out of the Social Services office behind the police department. The pantry also accepts donations in order to supply its clients, who may come once a week to get the supplies they need.
"Some people get very upset when they come in because it's not something they ever though they'd have to do," Piccini said.
One such story was an affluent woman with children whose husband was injured. Although the family has since moved, the woman utilized the pantry for two years to help feed her family while she worked and earned a degree to get a better job.
"She cried every time she came in," said Piccini.
Piccini and Paulsen both said that when people receive help during their time of need, they often return to the pantries to help when they are able.
"I have a mother who gives me donations as a thank you for helping her son," Piccini said. "At Christmas, another family brought a large amount of food in to say thank you."
"We've had clients who don't need us anymore show up with food and vegetables," Paulsen said. "And I've had clients who want to volunteer."
Thanksgiving and Christmas see the largest volume of giving, but the food pantries help families and need donations all year.
Ways to Help
- One Can Make(s) a Difference: Bring your canned good(s) to the parade. You may also donate money and Big Y coins.
- Donate money: Both FAITH and Social Services have funds set up for purchasing groceries. One hundred percent of the donation goes to buy food.
- Drop off: Several businesses around town offer drop-off sites for FAITH, including the Sandy Hook Farmers' Market, Andrea's Bakery, Ace Hardware, Dr. Baum's office
- Support Sandy Hook Fire House's Fill the Truck Food Drive in November.
- Get students involved by donating when various schools collect food and household goods.
- Healthy cereal
- Complete pancake mix and syrup
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Canned stew or hash
- Canned fruit
- Healthy kids' snacks
- Boxed macaroni and cheese
- Toilet paper
FAITH is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon and on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Donations are also accepted at these times, or call ahead to arrange another time: 203-426-5604.
The offices of Social Services are located in the lower level of the Police Department and are accessed through the rear parking lot. Call ahead for hours: 203-270-4330.