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COVID-19 has temporarily stamped out the May 9 Letter Carriers’ drive that usually brings Branford Food Pantry (BFP) up to 8,000 pounds of donations in just one day. BFP Vice President Jaye Andrews is hoping the community can help drive donations in to assist the rising number of families relying on receiving free weekly groceries from BFP. (Photo courtesy of the Branford Food Pantry )
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COVID-19 has temporarily stamped out an annual food drive that usually brings Branford Food Pantry (BFP) up to 8,000 pounds of donations in just one day. As BFP Vice President Jaye Andrews can attest, the impact of postponing the May 9 U.S. Letter Carriers’ 28th annual “Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive,” with a new date yet to be determined, couldn’t be hitting BFP at a worse time.
In April, another big BFP food drive, coordinated annually with Stop & Shop/NBC, was canceled due to COVID-19.
BFP’s all-volunteer group is also grappling with diminished supplies from the Connecticut Food Bank, which usually comprises 50 percent of the pantry’s weekly provisions. Add to that a spike in families coming in for help due to unemployment and furloughs, and the call for help couldn’t be louder.
“We used to get about 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of food a week from the Connecticut Food Bank. Much of it was free, or if it wasn’t, it was very reduced in price. Now, we’re down to about 1,000 pounds a week. So we’ve seen a big drop in what we can get from them,” says Jaye. “So between that and the [postponed] postal workers’ food drive, which is worth 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of food to us, and losing the April NBC Food Drive with Stop & Shop, which is usually 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of food, we’re really down.”
At the same time, demand for assistance from BFP has gone way up. In 2019, the pantry provided groceries to more than 200 families per week and logged an average of 628 visits per month. As soon as the pandemic began creating job losses in March, BFP began fielding requests from new families.
“Our regular clients are still coming in or asking for deliveries, but in the one month since we went to the new protocols, we’ve had 40 new people, where normally, in a ‘big’ month, we’d add eight people,” says Jaye. “So 40 is just unbelievable. We’re adding about 18 people a week. It’s a lot.”
BFP is working to assist every Branford resident who needs help, provided by volunteers who realize it takes a lot for a new family to ask for it.
“They come in and they apologize and say, ‘But we’re both out of work.’ And we tell them, ‘Don’t apologize,’ and we give them as much as we can,” she says. “I hope anyone that does find themselves in a tight spot will feel comfortable coming in.”
While the increase in clients is a challenge, Jaye says, “we are also encouraging them all to stay on the list. Even when this ends, and they go back to work, we want them to come in just for a while to help them get caught up.”
How to Help BFP
Right now, non-profit BFP can use monetary donations to buy needed food and donations of food that’s needed. If every resident who had planned to put out a bag of food at their mailbox May 9 could instead bring it to BFP, or perhaps organize a neighborhood roundup to get multiple donations to BFP, that would be amazing, says Jaye.
“We’ve had a couple of neighborhoods do food collections for us since this all started up, and it’s been a wonderful contribution,” she says.
There are also certain items BFP could really use, right away.
“Bottled juice, that’s something we cannot get for love nor money. One-pound bags of rice are gold,” says Jaye. “And canned goods are hard to get—corn, mixed vegetables, baked beans...and pasta sauce. I would happily encourage anyone, if they have some of this in their pantry and its still within date, please donate. Or if you were planning on putting food out at your mailbox, bring that bag to the pantry.”
All donations can be dropped off at BFP, 30 Harrison Avenue (BFP’s entrance is at the right side of building, down the ramp) on Tuesday mornings between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and Friday mornings between 10 and 11 a.m. Anyone who can’t bring donations during those times, or those who may have a large donation, can arrange for a drop off by calling 203-481-3663. Monetary donations can be sent as checks payable to the Branford Food Pantry mailed to BFP, 30 Harrison Ave., Branford, CT 06405
Jaye also would like to thank those who have been responding to assist BFP during this extraordinary time. The help is very much needed and appreciated.
“I’d just like to do a big shout out to the local community. People and local businesses have been sending money and food,” says Jaye. “There are certain groups coming together to donate food, and others that have always helped us, like the Branford Community Garden, that continue to be supportive.”
The area’s grocery stores have been working with BFP volunteers to assist in any way they can, from bulk purchases to donating shopping bags for packing up groceries for clients.
Keeping BFP Up and Running
As Jaye notes, BFP has had to make quite a few adjustments to continue serving the community while keeping everyone safe during the pandemic.
“Back about March 15 we had to change our practices. We couldn’t have clients coming into the food pantry, and many of our volunteers are in the high risk [age] group, so right off the bat we encouraged them not to come in anymore. So we lost a lot of our regular volunteers. That was the first challenge,” says Jaye.
Not knowing what to expect, Jaye, who manages BFP’s staffing, put out a call for volunteers.
“The community has been truly responsive. They’ve been wonderful, to the point where I now have a wait list. It’s wonderful because one of my jobs is to manage the volunteers, so to have a back-up list is a God-send,” she says.
Another initial challenge for BFP was figuring out safe practices at the pantry, located in the basement at Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Center. The space includes a small shopping area for clients, a freezer and storage space, and a conveyor system to deliver food outside to drivers.
“We had to reinvent the wheel. It’s not an ideal spot for social distancing when you have 40 people shopping for groceries,” says Jaye. “So we started taking their names at the door, and we’d place an order for them, pre-pack it, and send it up.”
BFP normally would have about 19 volunteers per session, between drivers, packers, and sorters. For the safety of the volunteer force, “We’re doing it with nine now, and that includes drivers,” Jaye explains. “So we’re on a real skeleton crew, because we just can’t have more people in the building.”
Due to some food donation shortages, BFP requests clients ask only for the food they need to supplement their groceries.
“We have a standard list of food we offer like cereal, juice, rice, beans, canned fruit, and vegetables [fish and meats], and we’re asking them to look at the list and tell us what they don’t need this week. They’ve been really good about that, and very cooperative,” says Jaye.
BFP volunteers provide no-contact delivery drop-offs to elderly clients and those with compromising health conditions. Clients driving up to collect their groceries at BFP also don’t come into direct contact with volunteers.
“We pack their order for them and it goes up on the conveyor belt in a box with their name on it. We walk it to a table, our guy steps away, and [clients] one at time come to the table. So there’s no contact, and everybody inside wears gloves and masks, no matter where they’re working,” says Jaye.
Helping with Food Insecurity
Jaye and her husband, David, both volunteer at BFP. The couple moved to Branford about four years ago and began volunteering shortly after coming to town.
“When we settled into Branford I got involved with BFP as a regular volunteer, then they asked me to be on their board. I was recording secretary, then I skyrocketed to my current position last year,” Jaye says with a laugh.
David’s career in the pharmaceutical field brought the Andrews to live in several other locations before coming here, ranging from New Jersey to Australia and the Bahamas. At all locales, Jaye got involved with helping the hungry as a volunteer.
“I’ve been working in food insecurity a long time,” she says. “Back when I lived in New Jersey, I volunteered part-time with the New Jersey Food Bank.”
After retiring from his U.S. company, David took a job offer in Australia, where Jaye volunteered as a garden manager with meal provider non-profit Fair Share.
“And after we left Australia, we came here briefly, and then my husband took a job in the Bahamas for a year and half, and I was on the board of their Humane Society. But I also supported several of the local churches, which do their own cooking and deliver meals to people on the streets,” says Jaye. “So food security is just one of those things I’ve wanted to support. I even volunteered, momentarily, at the Guilford Food Bank when we were here between Australia and the Bahamas.”
For Jaye, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why people in the U.S. should be without access to nutritious food to eat.
“In a country like this, with as much money as this country has, the fact that people are going without food strikes me as unbelievable, frankly,” she says, adding she’s grateful to have been welcomed to BFP by the volunteers and the board, especially President Wendy Cowles.
“They have never stopped me in my efforts to do stuff. Its been a wonderful group to work with, and I love the fact that it’s 100 percent volunteer. Nobody gets paid; all the money goes to feeding people. So that’s a real plus for me,” says Jaye.
Branford residents who are not among BFP’s registered clients, but are in need of emergency food, can call 203-481-3663 or email email@example.com for information about signing up.
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