Holidays pressure food pantries

After a busy Thanksgiving, food pantries in New Haven are preparing to meet an unprecedentedly large demand for food this holiday season.

The Connecticut Food Bank, which serves 115 food pantries in New Haven, has reported a 30 percent increase in the need for their services this holiday season over last year’s. Although in past years the demand for food falls after Thanksgiving, this year, the need remains high, CT Food Bank Chief Development Officer Janet Kniffin said. To help feed the city residents in need, Yale-based organization Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP) has increased their efforts to provide food for New Haven residents in need.

When it comes to holiday dinners, the CT Food Bank thinks in terms of tens of thousands.

“We distributed over 24,000 turkeys over Thanksgiving. The need continues beyond Thanksgiving, though,” Kniffin said. “We actually think in terms of 12 months out of the year, and the distribution is still very high.”

The food bank is not alone in their efforts to combat hunger. YHHAP utilizes Yale’s resources by collecting excess food from student dining halls and donating it to Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, a nearby soup kitchen on the corner of Temple and Wall streets that also has food pantry.

Yale students serve the hot food on weekend evenings because it cannot be stored in a food pantry, as it is already prepared, said Ming-Toy Taylor ’12, who is in is in charge of soup kitchen initiatives at YHHAP. Instead of letting the leftover food from Commons go to waste, YHHAP saw an opportunity to share the excess with those in need, she added.

Though the organization has been running its Friday night program since the beginning of the year, it recently developed a Saturday soup kitchen that began three weeks ago to meet increased holiday demand. “This fall [began] with huge crowds that haven’t gotten any smaller,” Taylor said. “We’re very lucky that Yale has so many resources.”

YHHAP started the Saturday kitchen when members realized that no New Haven food pantries were serving on Saturdays, Taylor said.

Although Kniffin said she was proud of the organization’s response to residents’ needs during the Thanksgiving season, she said the CT Food Bank is now facing the challenge of keeping up supplies rest of the holiday season as well. On an average day, the CT Food Bank, which has its largest warehouse in East Haven, issues 30 tons of food to local food pantries throughout the state.

She added that while only 8 percent of Connecticut used to be want for food, 11.5 percent of the population is now struggling to put food on their tables.

Juan Marquez, the coordinator at Christian Community Action Inc., a food pantry located in downtown New Haven, has also noticed a sharp increase in appointments made to pick up food. The Christian Community Action, Inc. receives almost all of its food supply from the CT Food Bank, he said.

In the case that the winter holiday rush is larger than expected, Marquez has created an emergency stock of food, composed of about 500 cans. But Marquez says that the CT Food Bank has been great in providing the pantry with enough food.

“I’ve never seen [the pantry] run out of food,” he said. “We’ve never turned anybody away because there hasn’t been enough.”

The Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen serves about 100 people each night.

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