Area residents hoping to fight hunger during the holiday season now have an added incentive — contributing six cans of food to the Connecticut Food Bank gives them a chance to help implode a New Haven landmark.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s new fundraising plan for the Connecticut Food Bank raffles off the opportunity to “push the plunger” to trigger the demolition of the New Haven Coliseum. The winner will also receive three personalized, engraved seats from the abandoned stadium. The initiative comes at an important time for food banks in the New haven area, as donor fatigue and increased demand for assistance during the holiday season make the need for food greater.

“We’re seeing an increase in demand, especially as we head into the winter months,” Julie Rio, development director of the Connecticut Food Bank in East Haven, said. “People report to us that there are certain increases in living costs that are stressing an already stressed budget.”

Rio said rising rents and mortgage rates, increasing medical costs and higher fuel prices are forcing the city’s working poor to cut back on their food budgets.

“Our supply levels match those of last year, but if need has increased since last year, we might not be covering everyone we need to,” she said.

Wendy McLeod, coordinator of Loaves and Fishes, a New Haven food pantry affiliated with the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James, said it would take a severe shortage to shut her organization down.

“We’re certainly not at that level of need, but we’re having to be more creative than normal,” she said.

Loaves and Fishes provides a grocery bag of food to over 300 people each week intended to supplement four to six meals in a week.

Kate Lombardo, executive director of the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County in Stamford, said both low donations and increased demand due to higher living costs have severely affected her center’s supply.

The Stamford Food Bank, which provides food to member organizations for redistribution to individuals, was down over 20,000 pounds of food supplies in September and over 10,000 pounds in October. They were also unable to meet the full demand for turkeys this Thanksgiving. Lombardo said that in her six years at the food bank, she has never experienced such a shortage.

“This was downright scary,” she said.

Lombardo said she also expects to see problems over Christmas as a result of the Thanksgiving shortage.

“The critical aspect of acquiring supplies at Thanksgiving time is that you have the attention of the donor, when feelings of good will capture individuals,” she said. “Those donations really carry you through the winter months.”

The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County serves the “Gold Coast” of Connecticut, including the wealthy towns of Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, Wilton, New Canaan and Darien. Lombardo said the area’s demand comes from the working poor employed in jobs generated by the wealth in the area.

“Their desires are no more and no less than ours. They want to feed their family,” she said. “Children should not go hungry in America, but they are and it’s unimaginable.”

The shortage in Stamford caused food bank’s member organizations that redistribute the food to individuals to distinguish between “absolute need” and “good will” in providing food on Thanksgiving, Lombardo said, a policy that food pantries typically do not follow when supplies are high.

Susan Agamy, executive director of Area Congregations Together homeless shelter, said the Valley Food Bank in Derby, located about 15 miles east of New Haven, lacks its typical base supply of foodstuffs for the Christmas season.

“We are somewhat concerned about not meeting demand because our base is smaller to start with than it has been in the past,” Agamy said. “It’s hard not to be a little nervous when you see the current situation.”

Agamy also said that increased demand has exacerbated the situation in Derby. Last year, the food bank was able to fulfill 427 requests for meals at Thanksgiving, while this year the number jumped to 572.

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