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How a Danbury nonprofit plans to ‘save’ 1million pounds of food this year for households in need

DANBURY — The young group of seven volunteers from the Church of Latter-day Saints arrive at the Triangle Street warehouse in Danbury each week in two groups.

First, the boys help sort and place on the shelves two truckloads of donated food dropped off that morning, then the girls come in to pack the over 100 boxes of food to make sure they are ready to be picked up the next day. .

Organized by the nonprofit Community Food Rescue of Danbury, the effort is just one part of a larger logistics system helping more than a dozen pantries and local food organizations to s supplying, transporting and distributing food to thousands of households in Danbury who rely on their support.

Hired as the nonprofit’s director in 2018, Linda Hutchings said she started working with a single driver picking up and delivering ‘food on her last legs’ – how she described the expired food items from local donors – “so it immediately goes to a pantry serving that day.

Sourcing this food that would otherwise be thrown away based on its best before date requires Hutchings to build relationships with local store managers to help keep an eye, or “a lead”, on when the food might be approaching. of their expiry date.

In 2021, Community Food Rescue facilitated the rescue of 862,000 pounds of food that would otherwise have been thrown away, but instead helped feed thousands of households each week.

For 2022, Hutchings, a resident of Ridgefield, said the goal was to increase the figure to 1 million pounds of food saved from trash.

“I would love to do more,” she said.

Delivery request

Part of the Western Connecticut Community Action Agency with financial support from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Community Food Rescue today operates its own warehouse and employs Hutchings and three drivers who work five days a week on three shifts using two vehicles to collect and distribute hundreds of thousands of pounds of food was donated to local food banks and other organizations serving thousands of Danbury households.

Prior to managing food supply and supply for the Connecticut Food Bank, Hutchings worked at Pepperidge Farms as an account manager for the company’s Stop & Shop supermarkets. In this role, she interacted with a network of store managers and honed her acumen in the use of spreadsheets and a host of other data management tools that became invaluable in her post-work endeavors. -career.

“I tried to retire,” she laughed. “I tried to retire when I left the CT Food Bank, but I got sucked in because Danbury is like the far-right son-in-law of the state.”

In the years she spent volunteering at her town church, Hutchings said she noticed that the dozen or so volunteer agencies serving food to local households in Danbury lacked significant transport “capacity”, meaning they didn’t have enough staff or vehicles to get food.

For example, she said the Salvation Army branch relies on the organization to deliver food stored in its warehouse. This is the case of the Victory Christian Center, which has a van but not enough staff.

“So that’s where I came in,” added Hutchings. “It became necessary to bring a vehicle here to deliver food.”

Today, drawing inspiration from his days at Pepperidge Farms and the CT Food Bank, Hutchings tracks the value of food purchased using spreadsheets. Distributed in neat rows of data, she can then easily provide it to a donor grocery store for accounting purposes or to use as evidence of the organization’s impact when applying for state and federal grants and other sources of funding. funding.

“The demand got so big that once I got the truck it was like, OK, we only have same-day food, so I started outsourcing the supply and I opened a warehouse,” recalls Hutchings.

“Now I can handle more agencies and get more food into my building,” she added.

One week in warehouse

Either directly or through its partner agencies and organizations, Hutchings estimates that Community Food Rescue’s support to “thousands of [Danbury] households each year who eat scavenged food and are so grateful,” with the Danbury warehouse serving as a hub for the effort.

Opened in September 2021, the 2,700 square foot space with an eight-pallet freezer that stores all the meat for the Daily Bread Food Pantry – Danbury’s largest pantry – allows Community Food Rescue additional flexibility to establish more relationships with additional agencies and food donors.

Hutchings said the trucks are dispatched five days a week starting early in the morning and driving around various food donors picking up items while making delivery stops throughout the day. On Monday, she said drivers were picking up an average of about 4,000 pounds of food that would go to Victory Christian Center, Daily Bread, Salvation Army and other pantries.

On Wednesdays, groups of volunteers also prepare packages for the nonprofit’s “Community Choice” offerings to be prepared for Thursday, when around 120 cars typically turn up to choose from the food items stored. Other stops throughout the week include collecting donated containers from the Danbury Fair mall’s Chick-fil-A restaurant (“buying paper boxes would kill me financially,” Hutchings noted) and a delivery stop at the Jericho Partnership.

The activity ends on Friday when the warehouse is deep cleaned.

A food effort for the future

President Joe Biden’s administration announced this year that for the first time in more than 50 years, the White House would host a national conference on hunger, nutrition and health.

Scheduled for September, a White House press release says one of the goals of the event is to “accelerate progress to end hunger” and “improve nutrition” as part of the goal. of the administration to alleviate hunger and increase healthy activity in the country by 2030 “so fewer Americans suffer from diet-related illnesses…”

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, estimates that one in 10 U.S. households is food insecure, defined by the agency as households that at some point in the l year, were “not sure if they had, or could not acquire, enough food to meet their needs”. the needs of all their members because they did not have enough money or other resources to feed themselves.

Rates are higher than the national average for all households with children, especially those headed by a single parent, as well as low-income and black and Hispanic households, according to federal data.

In Connecticut, 428,800 people, or one in eight people, face hunger, including 109,480 children, according to estimates by advocacy group Feeding America.

In April and May 2021, a Connecticut Foodshare survey revealed disparities in food security before and after the COVID-19 crisis. Before COVID, 40% of people of color and 24% of white residents were food insecure, compared to 43% of people of color and 26% of white respondents who were food insecure a year later, according to the report.

Hutchings said she and other members of the Danbury Food Collaborative, a partnership of food pantries and meal providers coming together across the city to meet the needs of food-insecure citizens, would organize a bid before the White House forum and welcomed the potential for additional federal support.

In addition to the food rescued, Hutchings said Community Food Rescue uses state grants and donations to purchase and source food, primarily from the CT Food Bank, all part of a budget of annual operation of about $150,000, most of which goes to paying wages for herself and the drivers.

Rising costs from inflation and food donors who are further and further away from Danbury have strained the organization in recent months, Hutchings said, adding: “I constantly assess and use my own car.”

“The biggest issue facing all organizations is transportation,” she reiterated.

Recently, Community Food Rescue set up food box deliveries to elderly residents living in four seniors’ apartment buildings in Danbury and is looking for partners who provide meals to students during the summer to see if they could help with delivery.

To continue to grow, Hutchings said the nonprofit could use another van with a refrigerator so it can travel further to food sources; and they could use other things like more shelving and a forklift for the warehouse. More volunteers would be nice too.

Another objective still concerns transport but is more visionary.

It would take a retired beer delivery truck, with cooled storage bays all along the outside of the vehicle, to be put back into service as a mobile pantry used to reach residents of Danbury who cannot already accessing local pantries during the week, Hutchings explained.

“The working poor who work at places like Walmart make $15 a night and are out at 5 a.m. [a.m.]…they don’t have the ability to access a pantry because they don’t have a Saturday,” she said.

And it wouldn’t take a lot of volunteers to operate, she added. “…I just open the berries and distribute the food.”

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.