Smart Investment: Access to Food

Businesses, individuals, and social service providers throughout the Valley ensure that no community members go hungry.

More than one in seven households in the U.S. experience food insecurity, meaning they do not always have enough money to put food on the table, according to a 2012 study by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. It's a condition that unsettles the very foundation of a healthy life.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, many people who were once middle class are now struggling to afford enough groceries to consistently keep their families fed. The growing need has prompted businesses, individuals, and social service providers throughout the Valley to commit to ensuring that no community members, especially our children and seniors, go hungry.

The Valley-wide effort to fight food insecurity received widespread attention in 2005 with the Harvest House project. Participants in the United Way's Corporate Volunteer Council came together to construct a small temporary house along the Shelton Riverwalk and filled it with food donations from area companies. The food drive netted more than 12,000 pounds of food to feed thousands of families!

"When the receiving agencies arrived to pick up the food, the mood was reverent," said Valley United Way Volunteer Center Director Patricia Tarasovic. "People were in silence walking through; it was overwhelming how much food was in this house."
While Harvest House has since continued every other year and the Volunteer Council conducts monthly food drives, the need in the community has remained. The food that stocked Harvest House V in 2013, for example, lasted on food pantry shelves for only five weeks.

Just one year earlier, the demand for food was so high that the shelves of every food bank in the Valley were cleaned out. The crisis prompted Prudential Annuities to step in with a $12,000 grant that was matched by the Valley Community Foundation, Valley United Way, and a private donor to replenish the food supplies. Prudential Annuities continued its support here in the Valley by giving a grant to the Valley United Way to study food insecurity. The Valley Council for Health and Human Services created the Food Security Task Force, co-chaired by Tarasovic and TEAM Vice President David Morgan. The task force brings area food pantries around the table to identify the community need, the capacity of the agencies and the problems with accessing food.

"Everyone coming together will make the system better," said Valley United Way President & COO Jack Walsh. One of the first actions of the task force has been the Valley Hunger Study, which is due to be released in August. Having the agencies around the table to discuss what does and does not work has already yielded new collaborations that are strengthening the system.

"This has never been done before. How could we have anything but a positive outcome?" said Tarasovic.

The task force has also connected with other organizations that have food components to their programs. Now that school is out for the summer, many kids who relied on free breakfast and lunch are at risk of going hungry. Several of the region's public schools and the Derby Public Library are now offering free lunches each week during the summer months.

"It is in Connecticut's best interest to ensure that children have adequate nutrition during the summer, so they stay healthy, active and return to school in the fall ready to learn," said Lucy Nolan, Executive Director of End Hunger Connecticut.

Food insecurity is also an issue for our seniors and is associated with a number of diseases as well as other negative health consequences, according to Feeding America. Food insecure seniors are 60% more likely to experience depression and are 53% more likely to have a heart attack.

TEAM combats the challenges faced by Valley seniors by providing Meals on Wheels (MOW) as well as food to Community Café sites and three of the Valley senior centers. In 2013, TEAM served 58,000 meals to 367 homebound seniors, a 10% increase for the previous year.

"We try to help them remain independent in the homes. We also provide wellness checks. Sometimes, we are the only ones that they may see," said TEAM Vice President Diane Stroman.
"It's very important for us to remember that food insecurity effects so many different groups throughout our Valley community," said Tarasovic. "The more we can learn about the factors which contribute to hunger in the Valley, the better we will be able to collaborate to provide support and service where it is needed the most.

What You Can Do:

Donate food, money or your time to a local food bank at one or more of these sites:

Support the Corporate Volunteer Council's food drives
Support programs that help feed seniors