Mobile food pantry serves need in Naugatuck

Tara Mahoney, a volunteer with the Connecticut Food Bank mobile pantry, stacks packages of lettuce before the Naugatuck mobile food pantry opened June 14 at the Naugatuck Event Center. The Naugatuck mobile food pantry is open the second Thursday of the month from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Hundreds of people made their way to the Naugatuck Event Center last Thursday as the line to enter the building stretched out of the parking lot.

The former General DataComm building at 6 Rubber Ave. has become known for hosting popular events, but what drew people to the event center last week wasn’t a car show or festival — it was the Connecticut Food Bank mobile pantry.

The mobile pantries are designed to help bring fresh food to people who need it.

“Some towns are food deserts, meaning there is no real supermarket or store in walking distance for people to get healthy food. Most people in these communities have transportation as one of the main barriers. That’s where we feel like our mobile pantry makes a difference,” Connecticut Food Bank Program Manager Frederick Goodman said.

The food offered at the mobile panties varies depending on what is donated. Last week, stacks of corn on the cob, apples, peppers, zucchini, yogurt and potatoes filled the pantry in Naugatuck.

The Connecticut Food Bank runs 37 mobile food pantries in 29 municipalities. The mobile pantry in Naugatuck is new this year.

Goodman said the Connecticut Food Bank works with Feeding America, a national nonprofit organization, and looks at the number of people being served by a food bank or soup kitchen when deciding where to place a mobile food pantry.

“Naugatuck has about 32,000 people and only one food pantry in town. With a population that size, it lets us know there are a lot more people not being served in the town than are,” Goodman said.

Goodman said the need for food banks and pantries has increased over the last few years, especially during the summer when children don’t receive school lunches.

“There is a consistent call for mobile pantries in towns. The demand is high, so we can’t meet every demand. We try our best to direct people to the pantry in their town or neighboring towns,” Goodman said.

Naugatuck’s mobile food pantry is open the second Thursday of the month from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the event center, 6 Rubber Ave. The pantry is hosted by Naugatuck Partnership for Children, United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls, and the Ion Bank Foundation. Volunteers are needed and welcome to help at the pantry.

The first Naugatuck mobile food pantry was in May and drew 165 heads of household and over 200 people total, said Jill Mahoney, director of Naugatuck Partnership for Children.

“I don’t know what we really expected for the first time,” Mahoney said. “For us to get 165 the very first time was amazing.”

Last week, the numbers grew significantly. During the time the pantry was open, 259 heads of households and 441 people total came through the doors.

“We are a very food insecure district,” said Mahoney, adding many Naugatuck residents are above the federal poverty level but below the cost of living threshold, and struggle to make ends meet.

The Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank on Spring Street is open two hours twice a week during the middle of the day, which may be a difficult time for working families who need assistance to attend, Mahoney said.

“We are trying to supplement, not supplant, their efforts,” Mahoney said. “We wanted to make accessibility for working families a little easier.”

In addition to food, the mobile pantry offers information about other local services available to people.

“If people need food, there are probably other things they need services for too,” Mahoney said.

There aren’t any residency or income restrictions for people to use the mobile food pantry. The pantry will serve families from any of the surrounding towns, Mahoney said.

“The service is for people that are hungry. If you are hungry, come get your food,” Mahoney said.