In New Haven’s Dixwell and Newhallville communities, the coronavirus hits already challenged neighborhoods.
“We are fighting two pandemics: one immediately is COVID, the other historically is poverty,” said Erik Clemons, president and CEO of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technologies.
The New Haven non-profit offers classes, job training and educational experiences for area residents.
Being close to the community, Clemons knows what people here face.
Last August, Clemons worked on a community study evaluating poverty in Newhallville and Dixwell. The team found nearly 45 percent of families earn less than $25,000 a year. With a pandemic added on top, Clemons knew he wanted to help those who may have stocked up weeks ago.
“In the midst of that time, now folks have lost their jobs and the food that they purchased is gone," said Clemons.
ConnCAT started a Crisis Relief Fund last week with a goal to raise $600,000 over six months. Less than a week later, they have $420,000 from the Dalio Foundation, Yale and others.
With money immediately rolling in, Clemons reached out to community partners like Elm City Market. Now that restaurants are closed and events are cancelled, food distributors have product they aren’t using.
Elm City Market CEO Kurt Luttecke says it’s part of their mission to help the community, and it’s perfect timing to coordinate donations from food distributors. The market is also making their own contribution. Between the two, they plan to have hundreds of pounds of dry goods, produce and more next week.
The city’s community management teams from Newhallville and Dixwell will take over from there.
“They’ll break it down, bag the food and distribute the food to residents,” said Clemons.
It’s one of three ways they’re offering relief. They’re also sharing a portion of the fundraising money to supply debit cards to residents.
“Two hundred dollars will be on each debit card that will be placed in the hands of residents in both communities where they can go and buy food,” said Clemons.
Those residents will be chosen by the housing authority, who has identified residents who are in high need based on income. He says they’re working on making the cards available to those who don’t live in city housing.
The third part of the plan: purchasing additional food for residents and local food pantries.
“Our food pantry is open Monday through Thursday and the traffic that comes in is tremendous, but we’re able to meet their needs,” said Pastor Kelcy G. L. Steele of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, whose capacity to help is now grown, thanks to ConnCAT.
“We’re also going to be a distribution site for the groceries that they’re getting ready to distribute,” said Steele.
The need comes at a time that Clemons hopes is just the beginning of their work.
“My hope and prayer is that we raise enough money to continuously help people with purchasing food that is so desperately needed.”
To learn more about ConnCAT and the Crisis Relief Fund, click here.