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United Way Launches Mobile Pantry on Day of Action

United Way of Southeastern Connecticut launched a mobile food pantry program to bring food directly to remote areas of New London County and to serve those considered most at-risk for food insecurity. The launch event took place at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London on the national United Way Day of Action. The Day of Action is held every year on June 21, the longest day of the year, to bring awareness to an important cause or issue. This year, more than 300 communities across the globe held Day of Action Cutting the ribbon on our new mobile food pantryactivities on June 21.

Those in attendance had the opportunity to participate in “life events” and find out what it might be like to struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table. In addition to viewing the truck, guests at the launch event could watch a group of volunteers from Target pack up food as it would be for a typical food distribution.

The mobile pantry, a large, custom refrigerated truck, is a critical extension of the work of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, located in New London. The Food Center currently distributes more than two million pounds of food each year to nearly 100 local feeding sites in New London County. Now, that distribution is hitting the road to reach those most in need.

“Today for all United Ways is the United Way Day of Action,” noted Keith Fontaine, Chair of the United Way Board of Directors. “And here in Southeastern Connecticut we are celebrating our work and voluntarism and the actions of so many to respond to those who need food.  We begin our day today by launching our new mobile pantry and bringing attention to the issues of hunger and food insecurity.”

The truck is a gift from CL&P worth $125,000 and is the third truck of its kind that CL&P had donated to hunger-related programs across the state.

"The impacts of hunger can be far-reaching," said Bill Quinlan, Senior Vice President of Emergency Preparedness at CL&P. "No one should be hungry in Connecticut and CL&P is pleased to support the outstanding work that Connecticut Food Bank and the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center do throughout New London County."

A recent report of the county’s food system released by United Way, Nourishing Change, identified parts of Griswold, Groton and Norwich as being “food deserts.” Food deserts are considered regions lacking a large retail grocery store or supermarket and/or where transportation options are limited.

In the report, Voluntown, North Stonington, Sprague, Lyme and Salem are the lowest ranking towns in the county for retail food sources. Additionally, New London, Norwich, Groton, Griswold, and Sprague were identified as highest at-risk for food insecurity.

The mobile pantry and its food distribution will address many of these issues by bringing healthy food directly to those most in need and where retail options and transportation are limited or nonexistent. Also, because the truck is refrigerated, nutritious yet perishable produce and proteins can be more easily distributed without spoiling.

The mobile pantry truck donation from CL&P was facilitated through the Food Center’s partnership with Connecticut Food Bank (CFB). The Food Center is a Partner Distribution Organization of CFB and receives an allotment of food based on U.S. Census numbers.

Set up similar to a farmers’ market, the mobile pantry distributes fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, and other healthy food items at sites at the same date and time each month for 1-2 hours. Sites are determined based on where and when the most people in need can be reached. To date, pilot distribution sites have taken place in Jewett City, Groton, and at Norwich Free Academy. If organizations are interested in hosting a monthly distribution, contact jennifer.blanco@uwsect.org.

United Way is recruiting groups of volunteers to assist with food distribution at the mobile pantry and with set-up prior to distribution. If you are interested in volunteering, visit www.uwsect.org/food-center. If you or someone you know is in need of food, you will find a listing of sites where the mobile pantry will be.