AREA — During this time of school closures, social distancing and quarantine, many are finding innovative ways to be sure that residents don’t have to add food insecurity to their list of worries.
Beginning March 17, Region 15 began providing “Grab and Go” lunches for Middlebury and Southbury students at a drive-by location at the rear of Pomperaug High School.
In a correspondence dated March 16, Food and Nutrition Services Director Meghan Sullivan invited all Region 15 families with children age 18 and younger to pick up bagged lunches for each child in the family, provided at least one child in the family attended a Region 15 school.
Lunches contained either a sandwich with a fruit, a vegetable and a milk, or a cereal with yogurt and cheese stick with a fruit, vegetable and milk, at no cost to families.
Pick-ups began March 17 and continued on the 19th, 23rd and 25th, offering two lunches per child on the first three days and three lunches per child on the 25th.
In the first week of operation, more than 500 lunches were distributed.
Likewise in Woodbury and Bethlehem, all families with students in Region 14 schools are eligible to take part in a daily Grab and Go lunch service that began March 17.
Grab and go lunches will be available for pick-up at Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury and at Bethlehem Elementary School from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday until school is back in session.
Bob Taylor is president of the Community Services Council of Woodbury, which oversees the town’s food bank. Mr. Taylor told Voices that CSC’s first priority is to protect the health and well-being of clients and volunteers.
For that reason, he said, effective Friday, March 27, the food bank is changing its mode of operation.
“We have very much valued our policy of free choice, where people come into the food bank and choose what they want,” he said. “But given the health concerns and all the recommendations from the CDC and the Connecticut Food Bank, effective next week, we are going to a pick-up service. Our folks are making out selection lists of the nonperishable goods they prefer to be in bags that we select for them.”
CSC plans to mobilize current volunteers and many more who have stepped forward to help with preparation of the bags, which will be delivered to clients in their cars outside the food bank.
“We always have some specials in terms of fresh produce, meat and fish,” Mr. Taylor said. “Our staff members will take those orders at their cars, then volunteers in the food bank will prepare those bags on the spot and bring them outside so people never have to leave their cars.”
Mr. Taylor thanked the town of Woodbury, in particular First Selectman Barbara Perkinson and Director of Senior Services Loryn Ray, for making the senior bus available for home delivery of food bank items to homebound clients.
“Our primary service mode will be pick-up service,” he said. “Only limited numbers will be on home delivery, mostly seriously immune compromised folks.”
Going forward, Mr. Taylor said, another challenge will be keeping enough supplies.
“We still have toilet paper in stock,” he said. “We’re doing our best to keep in all the basic products, but we’re reaching out to the community that we are welcoming donations.
“In addition to Fridays, when we always receive donations from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., we will also accept donations on Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. We would certainly welcome the community assistance.”
Mr. Taylor said CSC has not just doubled down, but “tripled down” on protective measures at the food bank by wearing gloves, cleansing all surfaces and cleansing all product donations to try to minimize risk.
“It’s quite a challenging time and I’m sure it will continue to be a challenging time for the foreseeable future,” he said. “We are committed to making sure our service remains available on a weekly basis and serves every family in Woodbury that is in need. We currently serve more than 150 families. We want to make sure every one of them has access to their basic nutritional needs.
“Short of the governor or the president telling everyone we can’t move out of our house at all, we’ll be here and we’ll do what we need to do.”
Mr. Taylor said CSC is “very, very blessed” by all the volunteers who have stepped forward with offers to help.
“We’ll be reaching out to many of those folks in the next few days to implement an emergency schedule for all the special tasks we need to address in terms of stocking, preparing bags for orders and for serving folks on Friday and Saturday, our service days for clients,” he said.
“We’re taking every precaution to protect our staff, particularly seniors. If they are at all at risk or feel uncomfortable, we’re telling them to stay home, we’ll get other folks to help out.
“We’re going to make sure everyone gets through this okay,” he said. “Prayers would be helpful, too.”
For Woodbury seniors not currently served by the food bank, the Woodbury Senior Center is providing early morning bus transportation to grocery stores offering special hours for those over 65.
The bus will pick up seniors by 6:15 a.m. to shop during special hours at Stop and Shop in Southbury, and at 6:45 a.m. for senior shopping at LaBonne’s.
Stops at New Morning in Woodbury and Shoprite in Southbury will be added when special hours are announced.
To maintain social distancing, trips will be limited to three people at a time.
Those wishing to arrange a ride may call 203-262-2828.
The Bethlehem Food Bank has modified its schedule in response to the evolving public health situation around Covid-19, noting on its website that the health, safety and well-being of both shoppers and volunteers are a top priority.
Food bank clients are asked to submit a shopping list at least one day before they come to shop. Volunteers will have the order bagged or boxed and ready for pick-up.
Detailed instructions about how to prepare and submit a shopping list can be found at www.cfbethlehem.org.
“If additional items are needed, we will do our best to provide,” the website advised. “Normal shopping inside the food bank will be limited to fill special needs.”
Those who are ill may request delivery.
The food bank plans to continue this procedure as long as necessary to insure everyone’s safety and health.
In Middlebury, the Department of Elderly and Social Services is able to provide delivery of groceries and necessary personal items, and and can pick up medication from local pharmacies and deliver them to a resident’s home.
Individuals registered with the Elderly Nutrition Program will receive meal deliveries for the next few weeks.
At the Southbury Food Bank, Director Ann Marie Galus said the organization has suspended on-site operations through the end of March, but accommodations are in place to care for current clients.
“Sixty-two percent of our clients and nearly 60 percent of our volunteers are seniors,” Ms. Galus said. “We can’t practice social distancing in our small storefront space, but we’re providing grocery store gift cards to all our active clients to get them through the end of the month.
“They can go to Shoprite and shop in the store, or if someone is older and no family member can do that for them, we can provide a volunteer to shop and deliver food to them directly.”
In a situation she said is unfolding minute by minute, Ms. Galus is considering a grab-and-go program where volunteers will pack a bag of groceries from the food bank shelves and bring it outside to clients in their cars.
“Logistically, we would have to figure out who that can be, how to do it and how to practice social distancing at the same time,” she said.
“We still deliver to our shut-in clients who can’t get out to shop. We’re wearing gloves as we’re packing bags, and I’m delivering to their doorstep and leaving without contact.”
The above options are available to the food bank’s current clients. But what of others who are not food bank clients, but who nonetheless fall into the most vulnerable demographics?
Some are reaching out for help on social media. When one woman posted in a Southbury Facebook group that her elderly mother lived alone in Heritage Village with no computer access, dozens of people responded, offering to help.
At local houses of worship, congregants are circulating lists of members who are willing to shop for senior members and others who are advised to stay at home.
“I have a list of volunteers who have called and reached out to me, asking how can we help, plug us in where you need us,” said Ms. Galus. “I’m just blown away by the amount of calls I’m getting from people who want to help.”
Right now, she said, since she can’t put a sorting team together, monetary donations are the best way to help.
Those wishing to help support the food bank may donate online at southburyfoodbank.org or send a check to Southbury Food Bank, P.O. Box 68, Southbury 06488.
“This is unprecedented,” she said. “We’re all just kind of figuring it out as we go. But I want to let everyone know we’re doing all we can to care for our clients and make food accessible to them in any way we can.
“Just because we’ve suspended on-site operations doesn’t mean we are not caring for those in need in Southbury.”