Helping the Community One Bag at a Time: The East Haven Food Pantry’s Holiday Basket Making

Photo Credit: Victoria Heaphy

With the impending holiday season, increasing amounts of local families struggle to put meals on their tables. The East Haven Food Pantry (EHFP), however, extends a helping hand to those in need with its annual Thanksgiving food basket event.

The East Haven Food Pantry is a volunteer organization established in the 1980’s to help local East Haven residents who find themselves in need of supplemental food. The EHFP’s service has drastically grown from serving merely twenty East Haven families to numbers that now approximate to 450. In 2018 alone, the EHFP handed out over 104,000 meals to local families. The EHFP is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m to 11 a.m, as well as Saturdays from 10 a.m to 12 p.m. It is located in the basement of The Christ Epiphany Church on 39 Park Place, East Haven. Dianne Romans, ten year volunteer and three year president of the EHFP, shares that the EHFP’s mission statement is, “To serve the East Haven community and improve the livelihood of residents by providing supplemental food and holiday baskets in a caring and dignified manner.” With its upcoming meal basket assemblage, the pantry is doing just that.

For over ten years, the EHFP has hosted its Thanksgiving food basket event, which seeks to provide full Thanksgiving dinners to its clients. In this event, volunteers assemble bags containing typical Thanksgiving foods, such as: stuffing, cranberry sauce, canned veggies, a turkey or gift card, and a pie. About 200 bags are made each year. This year the EHFP will be assembling the bags on Thursday, November 21st at 6:00 at the pantry. Bags will begin to be handed out on Friday, November 22nd from 9:00 a.m to 11:00 a.m, as well as Saturday, November 23rd from 9:30 a.m to 12:00 p.m. Anyone can participate in the assemblage and distribution of the bags. The pantry is always looking for volunteers for both its seasonal events and throughout the year.

The holidays are often a difficult time for the elderly and for large families with children. However, EHFP volunteers agree that the Thanksgiving food basket event eases the burden of shopping for its clients. Ms. Romans even believes that without the baskets, many local families would go without a Thanksgiving dinner. Mrs. Sandra Carbone, eleven year volunteer at the pantry, shares, “I think it alleviates some of the tension that people experience during the holidays with trying to get all the special foods. The pantry becomes a place that they can rely on. Also, during holiday time, it relieves them of a lot of stress to know that there are people that care and will help them in any way they can. It’s such a worthwhile program to have in town.”

In general, volunteering at the EHFP creates a warm, friendly environment for both volunteers and clients. Eleven year volunteer, Mrs. Terri Sciarra, notes that, “Volunteers have a comradery with both the other volunteers and the clients that come in. Being thoughtful and kind to clients, greeting them with a smile, or going out of the way to make them happy and give them their food may be the nicest thing they experience that day. It is not easy for people to come in and say they need food; we want them to always feel welcomed when they come in.”

During the holiday season pantry volunteers face more stress due to an increase in the amount of clients signing up. The pantry seeks extra volunteers at this time, whether they be adults or school students needing community service. Volunteers concur that they enjoy the opportunity to give back to the local community. Ohm Patel, EHHS student and four-year EHFP volunteer, feels that, “It’s a really nice place with really nice people...I think it really supports the community by offering help to those who need it.” Despite the need for volunteers, the pantry finds itself well sustained in regards to food for clients during the holidays. However, Ms. Romans says, “We see an influx of donations around the holidays, which is wonderful, but we also need donations during the summer months when the kids are not in school and not receiving the free breakfast and lunches through the school.” Whether it be through volunteering or donating, the East Haven Food Pantry is a great way for people to help those in their local community.

In addition to the Thanksgiving basket event, the EHFP hosts several other events throughout the year that seek to reduce the pressures on local families that face economic stress. At Easter time, the EHFP hands out gift cards for either Stop & Shop or Shoprite to clients so that they can purchase specialty foods, like hams, for their Easter dinner. The food pantry also runs the Backpacks for Kids program, which provides breakfast and lunch foods, milk, juice and snacks to elementary school children who are at risk of not having anything to eat while school is closed on weekends and holidays. Through its various community events, the food pantry constantly ensures that East Haven residents always have substantial food.

Through its care and consideration for the residents of East Haven, the EHFP’s Thanksgiving basket making event allows all families in the local community to enjoy fruitful Thanksgiving meals.