By Reid DiRenzo
With Thanksgiving less than a week away, food drives in the area are encouraging donations.
“Our supplies are just really starting to come in because people think of us during the holiday season, which is wonderful, but as we say people are hungry 364 other days of the year,” said Associate Director of the Covenant Soup Kitchen Shirley Surette.
Last year the Covenant Soup Kitchen served 13,000 guests in the month of November alone and 175 meals on Thanksgiving Day.
In 2014 the non-profit Feeding America found that one in seven people struggle with hunger in Connecticut. In Windham County there are over 15,700 people who struggle with food insecurity. That is 13.9 percent of the population in the county.
“The holidays are pretty special around here. Our big family gathering we do a traditional Thanksgiving meal. We’re open on Thanksgiving day, turkey and all the trimmings,” Surette said.
Director of the Covenant Food Kitchen Heather Clark said the kitchen tries to serve at least one or two protein options, a vegetarian option, garden salads, fresh fruits and vegetables and a dessert for the holiday.
“I can’t even think of anyone who would dare say that they weren’t full when they left here. It might be because they chose not to eat what we offered,” Clark said.
Surette said the demand for food has increased from last year.
“We actually have put out SOSs for vegetables because we had no vegetables in the building and the response was overwhelming,” Surette said.
Besides serving daily hot meals the kitchen also provides emergency food pantry services and a community gathering area.
“I think this year there is more of a demand to use not only the dining room for hot meals, but also the emergency food pantry.”
The emergency food pantry works as a mini mart where families come in once a month. The type of food is based on the government food pyramid and the amount is based on how many mouths are being fed. Surette says a family who uses this service will have enough food for three meals, for three days.
“So it’s just kind of a buffer mostly at the end of the month to get them through until they get their food stamps,” Surette said.
The UConn community has also been making an effort in recent weeks to provide food to local food pantries and soup kitchens. The ‘Help Us Help Others’ Food Drive ran from Nov. 10 to 14 and worked with over 40 school organizations.
Last year the drive collected over 8,000 donations. This year’s total, which is still being tallied had already surpassed last year’s. Donations went to the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Daily Bread in Putnam, Manchester Area Conference of Churches, and the Town of Mansfield’s Food Bank.
“It’s a momentary fix, which at the holiday season you would want everybody to be able to not have to worry about where their next meal was coming from during the holiday season so from that perspective it’s a good thing,” said Community Outreach Program Coordinator Mike Morrill.
Morrill said the donations consisted of traditional items like canned vegetables, pasta and a lot of peanut butter, which is sought after by many food banks.
While Morrill said food drives do benefit the local community, he believes there must be a greater push to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness for next year.
“I think we need to think about how to couple a food drive, which lots of people do participate in with a prompt or a request to deepen their involvement,” Morrill said.
At the end of the school semester the UConn Food Services will clear out their kitchens after finals and donate them to the Covenant Soup Kitchen. Surette says the donations mostly consist of perishables such as produce and dairy.
“It is overwhelming, it’s a lot. I mean a big boxed truck will come in with whatever they have collected in their kitchens,” Surette said.