New rules could mean less help for food bank

New rules issued by the Connecticut Food Bank could jeopardize assistance the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank receives from the organization. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — New regulations issued by the Connecticut Food Bank has those that run the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank nervous that they may lose much needed assistance.

President of the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank Marty Lee Fenton explained that starting next year the Connecticut Food Bank wants food banks to allow clients to go through food banks and fill up their own bags.

Currently, volunteers in the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank, which covers Beacon Falls as well, fill bags with the same items for the clients. The clients receive the bags, packed into a shopping cart they can take out to their vehicles.

“They want people to be able to come in with a grocery bag and go up and down the aisles and, within certain limits, pick what they want,” Fenton said.

Mary Ingarra, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Food Bank, said the reason for the change is that at some food banks across the state, there had been reports of people just leaving food outside the food bank because they were not going to eat it.

“Pantries that have made the switch have found it is a very good system,” Ingarra said. “If people are choosing the food, they only take what they would use. There is much less waste this way.”

Fenton is worried that, since the building is so small, there would not be enough room for both the clients and the volunteers.

“We don’t have a big room or warehouse to do this,” Fenton said. “They wouldn’t be able to come with their families, so what are they going to do with their children?”

Fenton is also worried about what will become of her volunteers if they switch over to this new policy.

“There wouldn’t be enough room. You can only have so many people in an area. Some of [the volunteers] told me, you do that, we’re out of it,” Fenton said.

She pointed out that, while some food banks across the state have paid employees that work there, the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank relies solely on volunteers.

“All the money that comes in is used for food, not paying people,” Fenton said.

If the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank is not in compliance with the rule by the beginning of next year, it will lose its assistance from the Connecticut Food Bank, according to Fenton.

Fenton said losing the assistance would not be the end of the food bank, but it would certainly be devastating.

The Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank gets between 30 and 40 percent of its food from the CTFB, Fenton explained.

“It means people will have less, probably a lot less,” Fenton said. “We will run it ourselves the best we can, and give out the best we can, and do it the best we can ourselves.”

Ingarra does not believe that it will come to that.

Ingarra explained that the Connecticut Food Bank is trying to work with the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank in creating a compromise. Rather than having customers roaming through the small food bank building, the Connecticut Food Bank has proposed using a checklist.

The food bank would provide clients with the list before they enter and fill the bags with only the items that the clients have checked off.

Naugatuck would not be the first food bank to use this check list.

Ingarra said allowing the clients to choose helped them keep their dignity.

“People have more dignity this way. It’s really how you would feel being handed a bag of food versus choosing what you would eat,” Ingarra said.

Fenton said that the food bank tried the check list program on Tuesday.

“They did try having the people fill out a slip ahead of time. They found several reasons why it can not and will not work,” Fenton said.

She explained that some clients only come once a month, so if the food bank gives them a list for the next week to take home, it wouldn’t do them any good. It is also faster and more efficient to have bags ready for the clients before they walk in the door.

In the two hours that the food bank was open Tuesday, it served 54 families, she said. If the food bank’s volunteers had to make each bag to specifications rather than just uniformly filling them, they would be able to serve fewer clients, she said.

“Therefore we’ve just been doing what we’ve been doing,” Fenton said. “We’re not doing anything any different.”

At the end of the day, Fenton knows the bottom line is about helping the clients.

“We’ll just do what we can do. That’s our motto. We give what we get and do the best we can,” Fenton said.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said the new rule doesn’t impact the town’s food bank because it does not receive assistance from the Connecticut Food Bank.