SSKP Continues Fighting Food Insecurity
As of this month, Connecticut residents relying on federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds are no longer receiving the extra monthly boost deposited into their accounts since March 2020.
The extra emergency funds came from Connecticut's participation in the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. According to Connecticut Social Services, the emergency SNAP funds had added a minimum of $95 per month deposited into individual SNAP accounts.
As of February 2023, the last of those emergency SNAP funds were disbursed to Connecticut residents as part of the state's enactment of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.
The end of SNAP emergency funds hits at a time when inflation and the dipping economy have already created an alarming increase in requests for food security assistance from non-profit organizations such as Shoreline Soup Kitchens and Pantries (SSKP)
"Our food-sharing efforts continue to witness high need in our region," said SSKP Executive Director Amy Hollis. "Across our 11-town service area, we are seeing about 26% increase from pre-pandemic at our pantries. Our meal sites continue to serve meals to all who come to the best of our ability."
SSKP's "pre-pandemic" statistics are from 2018 but show that the organization's eight meal sites provided 996,408 meals. By the end of 2022, however, that figure increased to 1,261,386. The total meals provided at eating sites and pantries last year totaled 1,283,721, compared to 1,029,504 in 2018.
"Between SSKP pantries and SSKP meal sites, we shared over 115,000 meals worth of food in the month of January . February is running about the same," Hollis said.
SSKP serves residents of Chester, Clinton, Deep River, East Lyme, Essex, Killingworth, Lyme, Madison, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. Residents are invited to pick up food or a meal from any of its five pantries or eight meal sites. According to Hollis, residents can visit any SSKP site, not just the one in the town they live in.
"That's one of the beauties and flexibility within our system," said Hollis.
According to Hollis, the 12-member staff of SSKP's five pantries provided approximately 1 million pounds of groceries annually before the coronavirus pandemic, but the numbers have increased throughout 2022.
"Last year, we were over 1.26 million meal equivalencies at our pantries," she said. "That's where you get that very easy math fromm, a million to 1.26 [million], a 26% increase."
"We try to have very few barriers to access food. Yes, we do have a registration process, and we do know what towns people come from, but our primary focus very much is giving food to those who are in need. And there is no litmus test if you will; there's no proof of need needed if you're coming to the pantries because we know that there is need in our region."
That need is read in the statistics found by SSKP, which has found that roughly up to 36% of residents of its 11 serviced towns, including in the tri-town area, meet the definition for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE). This leaves a not-so-insignificant amount of the regional population in the awkward position of earning an income just above the federal poverty line, yet not enough to afford essentials like food on a consistent basis. This becomes even trickier "when possibly 10 to 15% of our population" in serviced towns are getting assistance through its meal sites, according to Hollis.
Hollis stressed that statistic is a rough estimate since there is no tracking or registration process for guests at sites, unlike at its pantries.
Concerning church-based meal sites in the region, the meals served may vary between 150 to over 600 a month, "depending on where it is and what time it is, what day of the week," according to Hollis. The "peaks and valleys" in numbers shift due to factors such as seasons and holidays, said Hollis.
Overall, this adds up to just over 1,700 meals a month served in 2022, representing a slight increase seen over the previous year. However, the pantries have noticeably been the biggest concern.
"People continue to get meals at the meal sites at a fairly consistent slow increase, but at our pantries in a one-year time from 2022 January to 2023 January," said Hollis.
Looking at the reasons why food insecurity has seen an overall increase at SSKP pantries and tri-town meal sites, Hollis points to a few contributing factors.
"You may see people who are struggling financially with the extra SNAP coming to a close, but we have not seen that yet," she said. "The cost of food impacted us as we saw [the] wholesale price of eggs go over $6. So if our guests are having trouble buying groceries, what it is for us is we seek to provide eggs when they cross this $6 mark."
But each story, she says, is different from the other and must then be considered.
"You will have individuals who are coming for a variety of reasons, and some come because they're seeking to be in the community with others because our mission is food and fellowship."
On top of $300,000 that was raised last year as part of the collaborative "Gowrie Challenge," to purchase more food and continued support by local Scouts, Rotary clubs, and Lions clubs, Hollis said volunteering at SSKP pantries and meal sites are opportunities for tri-town community members to get involved. It is to ensure that everyone in their neighborhood has access to food, something she said cannot be forgotten about.
"There should be no person in this world who is starving. That should not be a thing. There is enough food to make sure everyone has access to food."
Senior Staff Writer Pam Johnson contributed to this report.