‘Kids deserve some magic’: Derby food bank plays Santa for families in need

Photo of Brian Gioiele

DERBY — Christmas came early for dozens of families in need Tuesday.

Santa, along with some elves and a trusty reindeer, hand delivered thousands of pounds of food and gifts to 60 families at the St. Vincent de Paul of the Valley Thrift Shop and Food Bank on Roosevelt Drive in Derby.

“The gratitude — it is just so incredibly touching,” Remy Kocurek, the thrift shop and food bank director, said as she handed the holiday donations to families suffering from food insecurity this holiday season.

“There are so many different reasons people find themselves food insecure and they need our help,” she said. “It feels so good to not only provide them sustenance for their families but also make their holidays special.”

This past Thanksgiving, the food bank distributed more than 10,000 pounds of food in one day to 59 families. Over the past 12 months, the food bank has distributed more than 185,000 pounds of food throughout the Valley.

Kocurek said the St. Vincent de Paul of the Valley Thrift Shop and Food Bank is nearing its 40th anniversary, and the Adopt-a-Family Program goes along with the food bank’s mission.

“With the 60 families coming today, all have children 14 and younger,” she said. “These are families ranging from two — single mom and child — all the way to 10.”

Kocurek praised the generosity of the five Valley communities for making the program a success.

“I take wish lists from the children and give those out to various churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals in the Valley towns. They purchase gifts for the children. They deliver them all wrapped,” she said.

Each child received six gifts.

“Kids really deserve that, no matter their circumstances,” Kocurek said. “Kids deserve to have some magic and feel the love of their community.”

Since 1990, the St. Vincent de Paul Shop, through its volunteers, members, and programs, has been aiding the working poor, physically handicapped, homeless and mentally challenged.

The thrift shop, staffed by volunteers and stocked by donated goods, offers the dual purpose of providing a low-cost shopping alternative for the needy and generating income to purchase supplies for the food bank. Kocurek said the food bank services seven families a day, Monday through Friday, all year.

“It’s an incredible feeling when you help someone. It is so wonderful,” said Jim Fedak, who has been in the human services field for 15 years, the past year of which at St. Vincent de Paul. “You can’t describe it.”

Fedak said he has lost count of those people who, after receiving their donation, give him a hug and tell him how grateful they are for the generosity.

Tuesday’s giveaway was outdoors once again, with families driving up and shop staffers and volunteers handing the food and gifts to them while they sat in their vehicles.

While COVID may have changed how the shop services its clients, Kocurek said it has not slowed the staffers and volunteers’ ability to feed those suffering from food insecurity.

“Our wonderful community responded to COVID like we all did — first with a bit of fear and uncertainty,” she said. “But our communities were so incredibly generous. Our worries quickly dissipated. People were home, focused on news and social media and what their neighbors were going through. They responded in a big way — more than I could have ever expected.”