Hunger spreads to CT suburbs

Food banks in New Haven are hungry for help.

The Connecticut Food Bank — a nonprofit organization that feeds citizens in need and promotes public awareness about hunger in Connecticut — is struggling to keep up with the demand for food statewide. Though the organization recently saw a slight increase in donations, more are still needed, said Janet Kniffin, the food bank’s chief development officer. Kniffin said the organization has noticed alarming increases in food bank need in the six counties of Connecticut where they distribute, including in New Haven. Still, donated food increased 13 percent and donated money 2 percent in the past quarter, and the food bank hopes the upward trend will continue through the holidays to help the organization cope with increasing demand.

“Our reports show that 1 in 7 houses in Connecticut are struggling to put food on the table,” Kniffin said. “Unfortunately, we do not expect things to get better anytime soon.”

She added that even this dire statistic may not accurately reflect true hunger rates in the state because many people are reluctant to seek assistance, and that, even when they do, the data often lags several months behind.

Kniffin said national hunger trends paint a similarly pessimistic picture. According to the recent census, she said, anywhere from 36 to 49 million people in the United States are struggling to put food on the table. One out of eight Americans live below the poverty line, which, for a household of four, is a yearly income of $22,000.

To deal with such problems, Kniffin said, the food bank can no longer rely entirely on donations and has had to increase the amount of food it purchases itself. This quarter alone saw a jump of 35 percent in the volume of purchased foodstuff. Kniffin said the food bank distributes close to 30 tons of food every business day and that every $5 they receive can be converted into 17 meals.

With colder weather and the holiday season quickly approaching, Kniffin added, the bank is making preparations for large food drives in November and December. Last year, 26,000 frozen turkeys were donated to the Food Bank around Thanksgiving — a number which the organization hopes public awareness campaigns will raise this year.

Joseph Breen ’12, a director of Yale’s Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, said Dwight Hall offers several opportunities for Yale students to help combat hunger, such as volunteering at the New Haven Soup Kitchen on Fridays. Volunteering is particularly important this year, he said, because he has observed an increasing number of people eating at the New Haven Soup Kitchen every Friday.

“Each week at the soup kitchen is sort of a new record high,” Breen said. “Two weeks ago, we served about 80 people. The number of people we served this past week, however, was almost 100.”

Not only has the total need for food increased dramatically since the beginning of the recession, Kniffin said, but the organization has noticed that hunger has spread to the suburbs.

“There’s this stereotyped myth that poverty and hunger are urban phenomena in cities like New Haven and Hartford,” Kniffin said. “But, we’ve been really astounded by how many people coming for food now identify themselves as former donors. It is a story we keep hearing over and over again.”

Besides a general increase in the number of people seeking help, Kniffin specifically mentioned that 55 percent of the bank’s total food distribution at the beginning of this year went to suburban areas. Even before the recession, she added, demand for food assistance always outstripped the bank’s resources.

With the national unemployment rate hovering over 9 percent, she said, the increase in need for food is not surprising.

Kniffin expressed the hope that events like “Fill the Bowl” will encourage Yale students to donate food.

Stefanie Stevens, the food bank’s special events coordinator, also mentioned the “Fill the Bowl” food drive, tied to the Yale-Princeton football game Nov. 13th. By donating a frozen turkey and at least nine non-perishable food items, she said, students can receive a pair of free tickets to the game.

“Yale has the best and the brightest minds out there,” she said. “Just imagine what things would be like if they get involved not only here in Connecticut, but in their home communities too.”

The Connecticut Food Bank is headquartered at 150 Bradley St., East Haven, CT.

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