Something you should know about me: I’m a geek. I love statistics, and I think a little extra research can make a difference in just about anything. So when I was invited to visit the Groton Mobile Food Pantry yesterday, I did some brief homework on food insecurity first. Here’s what I learned:
A 2014 survey of food pantry and soup kitchen clients in Connecticut found that in the past 12 months,
- 73% of them were forced to choose between food and utilities
- 68% had to choose between food and medical care, and
- 63% had to choose between food and rent
This really got to me. As someone who eats constantly and also complains in the winter when my parents tell me to put on a sweater instead of turning the heat up higher (I promise I’m not really as obnoxious as I sound), I can’t imagine having to choose between being cold or being hungry. What about the parents who choose to solider through illness without seeking treatment because they need to feed their kids? These statistics were upsetting me, so I started looking for reassurance. There can’t possibly be too many people who live like that around here, I thought. Cue more research.
The overall food insecurity rate in New London County is 12.7%, but for children it is 18.5%. That’s 10,630 kids! However, only 57% of these children qualify for federal nutrition programs. So my question is: what happens to the rest? And what about those kids’ parents and grandparents; how do they get food?
This is where United Way comes in, and hence my visit to the Mobile Food Pantry. I had heard about the food pantry when I visited the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, where I saw the refrigerated truck and the produce loaded into it, but I still hadn’t seen it in action. I also wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, but it ended up being easy to spot. Volunteers and police stood at the entrance to Groton Human Services, directing traffic and waving cars into the parking area. It was a beautiful day and I was impressed by the number of people I saw, both shopping and volunteering. I was lucky to chat with some volunteers (although they were pretty busy, so I tried not to distract them too much!) and they were happy to let me take some pictures of them at work. Then I spoke to Jen, our Feeding Site and Mobile Food Pantry Manager, and Jack, our Senior Warehouse Specialist. They explained that this number of attendees was fairly average for the Groton site, and explained that some Mobile Food Pantry sites are attended more by seniors, while others serve more families. I asked what families did last week when a storm and resulting power outage forced us to cancel one of our Mobile Food Pantry distributions. Jen explained that the sites are placed so that New London County residents should be relatively close to at least two different ones, and therefore still have access when extenuating circumstances like last week’s storm occur. She showed me the surveys she was handing out to attendees, which asked them to rate their experiences at the Mobile Food Pantry and then identify what kinds of produce they would like to see at the pantry. The surveys are then used to decide what crops to grow at Coogan Farm, and these will make their way to the Mobile Pantry in the coming year. I left feeling a little better, knowing that this is one place people can go to get the nutritional support they need. I encourage you to do some research and learn a little more about the Mobile Food Pantry here.