Food bank task force striving to end hunger in the Valley

Patricia Tarasovic, president of the Valley Council for Health and Human Services, Susan Agamy of Shelton’s Spooner House, and Meme Yocher of Ansonia’s Kathleen Samela Food Pantry, at Christ Episcopal Church discussing how the $42,000 grant from the Valley Community Foundation will help reduce hunger in the Valley.

A task force composed of local food banks announced that it received a $42,000 grant from the Valley Community Foundation to help address the issue of ongoing food insecurity in the Valley.

The grant, which will be spread over the next three years, will help fund the hiring of a consultant who will help strategize the ongoing issue, the raising of community awareness, and ultimately improving communication among the food pantries across the Valley.

“There’s a lot to be proud of in the Valley region, but there’s also some areas where we really need to strengthen. And we really need to be much more strategic on how we partner with not-for-profits, how we partner with the municipalities, how we partner with school districts, and how we partner with businesses, that this is everybody’s call to action when we talk about food insecurity,” said TEAM Inc.’s David Morgan, who is also co-chair of the Valley Health and Human Services Food Task Council.

The council, whose purpose is to address food scarcity for families and individuals within the Valley, held a press conference on Monday, Feb. 12, to announce receipt of the $42,000 grant and how it plans to utilize it in the near future.

Patricia Tarasovic, president of the Valley Council for Health and Human Services and co-chair of the Food Task Council, said the task force expects to make an announcement this week about the consultant to be hired using the VCF grant.

The Valley Health and Human Services Food Task Council was represented at the press conference by individuals from the Valley’s five food pantries: the Seymour-Oxford Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul in Derby, Shelton’s Spooner House, Ansonia’s Kathleen Samela Food Pantry at Christ Episcopal Church, and the Salvation Army in Ansonia.

What is food insecurity?

According to the definition provided by Morgan, food insecurity is the lack of assured access to food.

In a report that came out a year and a half ago from the Valley Community Foundation called “Understanding the Valley Region,” various causes of the need for emergency food support were discussed, but the level of need within the area was unable to be determined, according to Morgan.

Tarasovic said despite being unable to determine the level of need at this point in time, this grant puts them on the right track to adequately support those in need.

Part of the struggle with identifying the Valley’s overall level of need comes from the area’s food pantries measuring its collections in different ways.

“While one food bank may measure the number of ‘meals’ provided, another may use boxes or bags of food,” Morgan said. “We’re not able to really define the scope of that need.”

At the press conference, Tarasovic announced that an anonymous donor had provided scales to be used at all the food banks, at no cost to them, in order to establish one way of measuring their food collections in pounds.

Morgan said the donation is “significant history in the making.”

“We will begin to give clarity on what that need looks like,” he added.

Susan Agamy, representative of the council and executive director of Spooner House, said establishing this form of measuring collections will help to move the collaborative effort to end hunger within the Valley.

She also expanded on and discussed other benefits of working closely with the other local food pantries.

“It has been critical in meeting the needs of our clients. When you have a relationship with somebody, it’s easier to make that call to address a problem and work together toward finding a solution,” said Agamy. “Secondly, learning the best and most effective practices from each other and how to move forward.”

Everybody eats

Both Tarasovic and Morgan also pointed out that despite stigmas leading some to believe that there aren’t families in need within such communities as Shelton, Seymour and Oxford, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Remy Kocurek, a representative of Derby’s St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop and Food Bank,  explained that one unfortunate event in life can put anyone in a spot where they need assistance providing food for their family or themselves.

“Sometimes it’s health, sometimes it’s someone in the house gets sick, someone got downsized and lost their job and is scrambling, and they’re living on one income and often they have difficult choices to make with whatever funds they have,” said Kocurek.

Agamy agreed and explained the need for community support year-round and not just during the holiday seasons.

According to Agamy, most food pantries see an increase in donations during the holiday seasons, but food shortages take place all the time. She said she’s seen more of a need for access to food during times when schools are on break.

“Students who had lunch and often breakfast at school are now home, and families struggle to put those additional meals on the table,” said Agamy. “Holidays we see an influx of donations and those drop off after the holidays, not because people don’t care anymore, but just because there’s more attention on it during those times. But as we all know, people are hungry year-round.”

People looking to donate to the food banks within the Valley may visit http://valleycouncil.org/.

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