Purple Pantry Box on West Haven Green to fight hunger


WEST HAVEN – The color purple makes Susan Brown smile. Now she hopes this will also play a big role in the fight against hunger in the region.

Brown used the eye-catching color for an outdoor wood pantry series to store non-perishable and shelf-stable items in public spaces. The Purple Pantry Boxes project was started in Milford about two years ago, with boxes built by Chris Grejtak.

The organization’s 12th Pantry made its debut in downtown West Haven on Tuesday at the site of the First Congregational Church.

Maintenance of the box will be overseen by volunteers affiliated with the church, who have contacted Brown to request a box.

Plus, “I understand West Haven would like a little more,” Brown said.

Brown started the Pantry Project as a way to fill a need she saw in her former job as a public defender.

“There were so many people who walked into the courthouse who needed help and support,” Brown said as the Milford boxes started. “I thought it would be a great idea to do something to help people. It was the goal. “

After establishing Purple Pantry Boxes as a 501 (c) (3) and learning about municipal approval processes, Brown expanded his operations. While 100 percent of financial donations to the association once went to food, she said it is now closer to 98 percent – the project has grown so important that she pays a small amount in rent for it. storage after moving food out of your home.

The exact nature of the foods in the box will depend on what people get out of it, Brown said. Volunteers will observe which items move the fastest and therefore represent the ones in greatest demand, she said. And while Brown said the organization prefers donations to be made to Beachside Nutrition or Seaside Nutrition in Milford, it is possible for community members to donate their own food to the box so others can. to recover.

Reverend E. Carl Howard of the First Congregational Church said he believed the box would be a valuable and indispensable resource.

“I am delighted that we can help to help a community in need,” he said.

Nicole Randolph, who attends church, is a trained volunteer who has helped store pantry boxes in Milford, but will focus on storing the box outside of First Congregational Church.

“West Haven needs these boxes as well,” she said.

Right now, Brown said, the organization goes through 124 cans of tuna and 60 cans of peanut butter per week.

According to officials fighting hunger, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hunger problem.

Jason Jakubowski, president and CEO of Connecticut Foodshare, said the negative economic effects of the pandemic were naturally damaging to people’s ability to purchase food.

“The good news is that the number of people in Connecticut who are food insecure is 428,000, and that’s less than a year ago at the height of the pandemic, but we still haven’t got back. where we were before the pandemic, ”he said.

Jakubowski said the nature of pantry operations must have changed abruptly due to the pandemic as social distancing became imperative and communal meals were no longer advised.

“This is not how food banks and pantries were set up or how we were supposed to be managed,” he said. “It completely changed our world overnight.”

However, Jakubowski said the pantry, which is affiliated with Feeding America, currently has 700 pantry partners statewide.

Paul Bronson, outreach coordinator for Vertical Church, said West Haven pantry operations also work in partnership.

“We will anticipate greater demand as the peak increases as things are closing in,” Bronson said of the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the state. “As the New Haven senior centers are closed again. The elderly will become our biggest concern at this time. “

Bronson said that despite spikes in infections, pantry operators have the advantage of knowing more about the coronavirus and its transmission now than they did two years ago.

“We are convinced that we are equipped to react quickly,” he said.

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi helped stock the city’s new pantry for the first time on Tuesday.

“There is such a need. Hopefully there may be a case where someone’s luck turns and they can give themselves, ”she said.

Brown said she had previously received phone calls from contributors in Milford sharing that this exact scenario had already happened there.

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