The shelves at Norwich Free Academy's in-school food pantry are bare. The pantry became depleted when the pandemic first hit. Since then, it has been a challenge to keep the shelves stocked as the need only grows.
"The need just got much bigger. Families lost their jobs," said Shirley Kutia, who runs the food pantry and the free clothing program at Norwich Free Academy. "It doubled."
During a normal school year, NFA sends anywhere from 50 to 75 students home with a weekly bag of free food. During the pandemic, staff has been delivering food to some families who express need. They hear similar concerns from parents on a regular basis.
"They are not being able to feed their kids," said Kutia. "Their kids are hungry.”
The leadership team at Backus Hospital learned about the challenge NFA was facing and decided to step in and help.
"It just seemed like the perfect alignment for us to help our community," said Donna Handley, president of Backus Hospital.
Backus selected NFA as the 2020 recipient of the hospital's President's Award for Community Partnership. The award includes a $10,000 donation to support NFA's food pantry and their clothing program, known as the Wildcat Loft. The Wildcat Loft also supplies toiletries and school supplies to students at no cost.
“Like Backus Hospital, Norwich Free Academy is part of the bedrock of our community, and we are honored to assist in the Wildcat Loft’s wonderful work — providing students with food, clothing and essential items to ensure health and maintain dignity," said Handley.
Kutia said that the donation will enable the school to restock the pantry. They anticipate that, once students return to school for in-person learning, they will be sending home more than 100 bags of food on a weekly basis.
"We are going to fill it to the ceiling," said Kutia. "We cannot wait to go to the store and buy food for all of these families.”
In addition to filling the food pantry, the money from Backus helped NFA provide 50 families with Thanksgiving meals.