Even as the United States works towards economic recovery from the pandemic, one consequence lingers: hunger.
A local food ministry is stepping up to meet the need, and volunteers are bracing to see even greater demand.
“The longer the pandemic lasts as a concern on people's minds, potentially the more clients we're going to start seeing on a regular basis,” Jacob, Fern Street food ministry coordinator, said.
Before Thanksgiving, dozens of cars lined up outside The Universalist Church in West Hartford and drove away with their trunks filled.
“We're offering chickens or turkeys and apples and sweet potatoes and potatoes and onions,” Beth Brigham, Fern Street Food Ministry Steering Committee co-chair, said on Saturday.
Fern Street Food Ministry runs five different food programs. One of them is the drive-thru food pantry held the third Saturday of each month.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, 92 households passed through to get the fixings for a hot meal.
“The last several months, it's been between 65 and 68, so that's a significant increase,” Brigham said.
Volunteers say the holiday has something to do with that uptick, but there are other factors at play.
“This entire pandemic, we've been basically predicting increase in demand,” Jacob said.
Pantry coordinators say despite the country’s slow economic crawl-back, hunger is an everyday reality for some.
“The services that the food pantry provides, and especially over the pandemic period, have been really helpful and necessary for households that fall under the radar,” Jacob said. “You're talking about retired households, you're talking about households that might have lost jobs.”
On top of overall increased need, last month, Foodshare ended its drive-thru emergency food distribution sites, which opened in April of 2020.
“This is our first food pantry since those sites are shutting down,” Jacob said.
Fern Street Food Ministry coordinators say because of that, they are preparing for higher demand in December, and ready to serve 5 to 10% more households over the next few months.
They are already seeing higher numbers in another one of their programs: the food truck.
“This past week, we saw about an extra 30 households coming through to the food truck, which sort of informs what we're going to be seeing through the food pantry,” Jacob said, referencing the week prior to Thanksgiving.
While the drive-thru pantry sends feasts of food out into the community, getting it is not a cakewalk. The supply chain issues created by the pandemic have trickled down to the food ministry.
"Many months we're lucky if we have one selection of produce, whether it's grapes one month, or apples one month. We don't have the assortment that we had pre-pandemic,” Brigham said.
Price spikes and shortages are still making produce, milk, cheese, and eggs hard to come by.
“That’s why we found other partners like Westmoor Park and Bussa Orchards for more produce,” Brigham said.
They are getting creative, aiming to fill trunks, fill stomachs, and continue to help meet basic needs.
“It's been really amazing to see the amount of volunteers come through, even when our safety has been at-risk, to make sure that we're providing nutritional support for people in our community,” Jacob said.