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Christine Sandford is a longtime volunteer at the East Haven Food Pantry, serving 300 families as the busy holidays approach. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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If you ask her, Christine Sandford will tell you the East Haven Food Pantry is where she is supposed to be. She’s been volunteering for there for 25 years now.
“I just kind of gravitated toward it back when there was hardly anybody coming…I just thought nobody should go hungry,” Christine says. “I get great satisfaction from helping other people. Everybody kind of finds their niche and I guess this is mine.”
Christine was born in East Haven. Today, she lives here with her husband, Wayne, former fire chief and current president of the Shore Line Trolley Museum where Christine also helps with programming.
They live close by St. Clare Church and became active in that community. He was a deacon and she ran the religious education program. While she was still running that program with her church, the food pantry was a part of the education for the kids.
“You always teach your children…helping one another [is] what we’re called to do,” she says. “You’re giving your children a legacy for reaching out and helping one another and I think that’s important.”
Christine says that the pantry has been serving more and more families these days. The number is up to 300, though not all of those families come every week.
“Our clientele [used to be] a lot of seniors…and people on disability, so we were serving families of one or two people,” she says. “Now people are coming in and we’re serving families that are five, six, seven people. A lot of them are three generations…and that’s a strain on their income.”
The food pantry is a way for struggling families to keep afloat. Those who need food can come to the pantry, located in the basement of Christ and the Epiphany Church, for up to three days’ worth of emergency food. The pantry has hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
“If they can get $20 worth of food, then that money can go to pay another bill,” Christine says.
Donations come to the food pantry through drives carried out by a number of churches and clubs in town, as well as by individual monetary and food donations which can be brought or sent to their address at 39 Park Place.
Local businesses also offer the pantry their nearly expired goods.
“The organizations in town are very [generous],” she says. “The Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Stoners—they all help support us.”
Christine is thankful for the groups and individuals who support the food pantry, which is also associated with the Connecticut Food Bank. She expects a new supply of food to come in over the next few weeks as groups have their holiday food drives.
“We’re open 12 months out of the year, but people seem to think that this is a good time to give food,” she says. “It just cycles around.”
Thanks to these donations, the food bank will offer seasonal meals for Thanksgiving, making baskets with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey.
“In the middle of the summer, our shelves may be a little bit low, but this time of year they’re overflowing. We just go with the flow.”
Now that Christine is retired, she has time to help out with the food pantry at odd times during the week, whereas many of the other volunteers also manage fulltime jobs.
“I’m kind of available in the middle of the week,” Christine says. “I try to do all the background stuff.”
When a business like Cumberland Farms or Big Y has an unexpected donation for the pantry, it’s often Christine who rallies the troops to bring it in.
She uses her knowledge of people in town to get all the volunteers the pantry needs.
“I don’t want Diane [Romans] to get burnt out and not be [food pantry] president anymore so I’ll do whatever I can to lighten her load,” Christine says.
Volunteering with the food pantry is like another family for Christine.
“Someone’s sick…we send cards. One of our volunteers has a birthday list of everybody and she sends out birthday cards,” she says.
The group meets a few times a year for ice cream socials or picnics, helping to bring together the the growing list of volunteers.
“You’re always in the place where you need to be at the time you need to be,” Christine says. “You just kind of know that this is what you’re meant to be doing.”
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