GREENWICH — Just hours after Connecticut joined New York and New Jersey in ruling that bars and restaurants can serve food only by takeout or delivery, Greenwich human services leaders shared plans to ensure that residents in need are receiving enough food.
The spread of the coronavirus is causing widespread uncertainty, with all schools and most businesses closed. Grocery store shelves are often bare, as residents try to keep their homes stocked with food.
Gaby Rattner, executive director at Community Centers Inc. — which helps clients overcome educational, social and economic barriers — was among the human services leaders and food rescue organizations ramping up efforts to assist those experiencing food insecurity.
One group of kids in need are the 100 elementary schoolers who regularly received snacks while attending CCI’s afterschool Homework Club on Mondays through Thursdays. With the club and school shut down, it cuts off meals and snacks to these children, who receive free and reduced-price lunches at school.
Photo: Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media
But partnership is continuing, with Neighbor to Neighbor still providing the snacks to CCI workers, who are delivering four days’ worth of snacks to the children’s’ homes once a week. On Monday morning, CCI workers had made deliveries to the homes of the 100 students, who attend Julian Curtiss, Hamilton Avenue School, New Lebanon School and the International School at Dundee.
“Until Neighbor to Neighbor enabled us to provide (students) with this food after school, we were basically scrounging to try to get them snacks when we could,” Rattner said. “These students rely on the food given during homework help, and we’ve focused on continuing the efforts as the outbreak continues.”
The children can also pick up bagged breakfasts and lunches at different spots around town, so they won’t miss those meals.
By Monday afternoon, CCI workers were gearing up to receive a food shipment from Norwalk-based Food Rescue US, which uses volunteers to pick up food from individuals, stores and restaurants and deliver the items to human services agencies.
In Greenwich, 6 percent of the residents experience food insecurity and in Fairfield County, the number is 12 percent of the population, according to a UConn study.
Aux Delices, which has a Greenwich location, is donating all of its extra food to CCI, said Danielle Blaine, Fairfield County site director for Food Rescue US.
Food Rescue also receives donations from Whole Foods, Kings Food Market, Upper Crust Bagel, Sound Beach Pizza, Something Natural Bakery and ReNapoli. The donations are usually distributed to CCI, Kids in Crisis and the Boys & Girls Club Greenwich.
Food Rescue leaders say they’re receiving more calls from businesses that are closing or reducing hours and want extra food diverted to organizations in need.
“People are reaching out constantly, just looking for some way to make sure this food doesn’t go to waste,” said Jennifer Guhl, marketing and development manager for Food Rescue.
“We don’t truly know what the overall impact is going to be,” she said. “We’re just kind of taking it day by day ... in terms of how we can help.”
CCI leaders are reaching out to older adult clients — another group that is vulnerable to food insecurity. Many can’t drive or live on a limited income. Agency leaders drive many seniors to supermarkets or out to dinner during the week.
But under rules to reduce large gatherings, CCI is finding new ways to address seniors’ needs. It has engaged in a partnership with Top Chef Meals, which is offering prepared food to older adult clients for $6 per meal. Meals on Wheels is also adding CCI clients to their food distribution list, said Rattner.
“There’s no minimizing how awful (the coronavirus outbreak) is, but it really shows you what a really incredible place we live in that there’s such a strong collaborative unified problem-solving response,” she said. “People (are) calling all the time to say, ‘How can I volunteer’ ... and that’s just really incredible to me and makes me really proud.”
The Greenwich Senior Center, which is also closed, is offering clients transportation to Shop Rite. To get a seat on the van, individuals should call the organization’s main number at 203-977-5151 and speak to Deana Salerno.
Supermarketing for Seniors, a program through Jewish Family Services, is also offering free supermarket shopping and food delivery to people age 60 and older, said senior center leader Lori Contadino.
Leaders at Abilis, an agency supporting people with disabilities, has always had a pandemic plan in place, and it was activated on Wednesday, March 11, President and CEO Amy Montimurro said.
“We have suspended all events and activities,” she said. “We are prepared with food and supplies.”
Agency leaders say they are worried about financially struggling individuals and families.
“First of all, they’re going to be affected more acutely, economically,” Rattner said. “Businesses are going to close, people are going to be furloughed, people are going to have to stay home from jobs that only pay them if they come to work. That’s going to be challenging.”
Students from low-income families, who often struggle in school, may regress even further, as schools remained closed, Rattner said.
“And I think all of us are feeling stress and anxiety and if you already have a great deal of that in your daily life, this is worse,” she said.
“Every system we have is going to be challenged by this, and for people whose lives are already challenging, it’s going to be harder,” she said.
Food Rescue US is seeking more volunteers to deliver food during the coronavirus outbreak. Volunteers are not required to enter businesses or homes. Volunteers can drop off food in neutral zones.
For information on how to volunteer with Food Rescue US, email Danielle Blaine at [email protected].
This article appeared in Greenwich Time.