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In the wake of COVID-19, New Haven nonprofits have sharpened their focus on the growing issue of food insecurity.

Amid the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, New Haven residents have turned to food banks, soup kitchens and grocery voucher programs to get their food. This demand has added new pressure to the food supply lines of local food banks. At the same time, the pandemic has reduced the number of companies and organizations that supply food to the banks, pressing many to purchase from wholesale markets — a move that has brought an unprecedented amount of financial duress on the nonprofits. 

This change has forced groups such as the Connecticut Food Bank and Community Fund for Greater New Haven to adapt their strategies for providing resources for New Haven residents and continuing their fight against food insecurity.

“There has been an increase in need with the onset of the pandemic,” CFB spokesperson Paul Shipman told the News. “An increase of maybe 30 to 40 percent in traffic to our network of programs.”

Thirty percent of those coming into food backs since the start of the pandemic have been first-time visitors, Shipman said. Feeding America, CFB’s nationwide network partner, has predicted that the amount of food insecurity in New Haven County will increase by nearly five percent in 2020.

The spike has astounded Shipman, who said he expects people of color to “suffer disproportionately.” DataHaven — a New Haven organization that has focused on polling COVID-19 during the pandemic — cites that food insecurity ranged from nine percent among White adults to 22 percent and 27 percent, respectively, among Black and Latino adults.

With this increase in need, CFB has had to buy larger and larger amounts of food from wholesale retailers. In the past, the organization has relied on large donations from the food industry — including grocery chains, food distributors and local farmers. Since the start of the pandemic, Shipman said this supply dropped by 60 percent creating a gap in the food bank’s normal supply chain.

“We have needed to purchase food at a level we never had to before,” Shipman said. “We had purchased more food since April than we had purchased in the last six years together.”

Christina Ciociola, the senior vice president for grantmaking and strategy at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, told the News that the demand for goods to meet basic needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter have increased dramatically in recent months.

Ciociola said that the Community Foundation has had to reconsider the organizations it targets for grants as it adapts its strategies to tackle the surge in food insecurity during the pandemic. The change has pushed the foundation to work with groups smaller than they would otherwise.

The Theta Epsilon Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority is among the Foundation’s newest partner organizations in its fight against food insecurity.

The sorority received two grants to help with their outreach, one from the Community Foundation and another from the Yale Community for New Haven Fund — a fund set up by the University in response to the impact of the pandemic. The sorority used these funds to purchase $50 food gift cards for elderly New Haven residents, a group that is especially vulnerable to food insecurity during a public health crisis when elderly residents are asked to remain indoors, chapter member Diane Turner said. With the program’s food cards, program beneficients can purchase food for delivery. It also allows the sorority to ensure that the funds are used to obtain food.

“We wanted to avoid making choices for people,” said Turner, who has led the sorority’s efforts in this project. “They may only spend $20 or $50, but still have money left over for the next time they need something.”

As the Elm City heads into the winter, local community leaders like Ciociola and Shipman told the News that issues related to food insecurity will remain, if not grow. To confront this, Shipman said he hopes community members will look for more ways to help their fellow residents in need.

CFB began as a soup kitchen in New Haven in 1982.

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu

Awuor Onguru | awuor.onguru@yale.edu