NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank will continue to help its clients the way it always has.
The food bank, which covers Beacon Falls as well, fills bags with the same items for all its clients. The clients receive the bags, packed into a shopping cart they can take out to their vehicles.
However, last year the Connecticut Food Bank requested that all of the food banks across the state that are affiliated with the organization switch to the client-choice method.
This means that, rather than handing the bag of groceries to the clients, the clients would come into the food bank and choose the food they would like.
This plan was met with skepticism by Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank President Marty Lee Fenton, who felt that the building was too small to accommodate the volunteers and clients.
“I see their point that we would need fewer volunteers,” Fenton said. “However, I don’t want to lose my volunteers and the volunteers want to be there.”
In October the Connecticut Food Bank had said they were going to send someone to see how the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank was run and if it should be exempted from the client-choice rule.
Fenton said that on the Tuesday before Christmas, which is the food bank’s busiest day, two people from the Connecticut Food Bank came down to view the operation.
“I put them to work, helping,” Fenton said. “They were very gracious.”
Fenton said that, while they discussed the option of client choice, she has not heard back from the Connecticut Food Bank about implementing client choice.
Mary Ingarra, commutations director at the Connecticut Food Bank, explained that while the issue has not been brought up, the food bank has not backed down from its belief that client choice is the best way to proceed.
“We did go out and visit Naugatuck. We did not address it with them at the time. It’s our hope that they consider changing to that model in the near future,” Ingarra said.
Ingarra said that the Connecticut Food Bank feels client choice is more dignified for the clients, since they get to choose what they want rather than just being handed a bag of food, and ultimately will be beneficial to Naugatuck’s food bank.
“People take less overall so people have more on shelves. There’s less waste because families take what they need,” Ingarra said.
Originally, the Connecticut Food Bank had requested that all food banks associated with them change over to client choice by the end of January or risk losing assistance. However, Ingarra explained that there are currently no plans to end assistance to Naugatuck’s food bank.
“There’s no enforcement right now but our hope is in the future they switch to client choice,” Ingarra said.
Ingarra explained that there have been other food banks, such as in Branford, where the staff was wary about client choice at first, but found it to be a good fit after embracing it.
“In Branford, the clients take about 15 percent less because they are only taking items they will eat,” Ingarra said.
Currently, Fenton has no plans to change over from what is working for the food bank.
“We are basically doing what we’ve been doing. We still help over 50 families every time we are open,” Fenton said. “[The volunteers] look forward to getting together and enjoying each others company and helping the community.”