‘Quite a blessing’: Shelton church’s free pantry offers food to the hungry

SHELTON — St. Paul’s Church is taking the fight against food insecurity to the street.

Parishioners Jodi Maier and Mary and Bob Dorland recently spearheaded installation of a Blessing Box — part of the Little Free Pantry movement — which contains non-perishable foods for anyone in need of a meal. The box sits at the end of the church’s entrance on Church Street.

“We call it the Blessing Box because if you are able to put donations in the box, you are blessed to have ability to do so,” Maier said. “And if you need food for yourself and your family, you are blessed because this is available to you.”

The Dorlands constructed the box - adorned with the phrase “Take what you need, give what you can” - and installed it in early November. The parish then stocked the box for anyone who was hungry.

Mary Dorland said the idea of the Blessing Box came after trips to see her family in New York and Massachusetts, where these Little Free Pantries are more prevalent.

“I thought ‘Why don’t we do something like that?’” she said. “There is so much food insecurity, and it has only become worse for so many during COVID.”

St. Paul’s Church already collects donations for the Shelton-based Spooner House Valley Food Pantry and the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. But Dorland said places like Spooner House require applications, which can take time that for many suffering from hunger can seem like an eternity.

“This is a chance for them to come, take what they need, no questions asked,” Dorland added. “We want to help feed people who need it.”

“We understand that people applying for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food pantry assistance have to go through a process, gather documentation on income and residency,” Maier said. “That takes times. In the meantime, our box is here so people can get what need.”

People can also stop and place food items in the box. Mac and cheese, cake and pie mixes, tuna fish, soups, and pasta are only a sampling of the “blessings” available for those suffering from food insecurity,” Maier said.

Maier, who moved to Shelton from Yonkers, N.Y., earlier this year and joined the parish, comes with plenty of experience aiding those less fortunate.

She was a parishioner at Christ Church Bronxville in New York, where she ran the parish’s food pantry, partnering with St. James Church, Fordham in the Bronx, a poorer neighborhood with many essential workers who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.

"We started that pantry in 2018,” she said. “By the time the pandemic hit, we were prepared.”

And her experience told her Dorland’s idea was the right one in what remains trying times for many people.

“People are falling through the cracks, and this will help to keep them going,” Maier said. “We do not know them, they do not know us, but what they do know is that someone cares enough to feed them when they are hungry. This is a blessing that goes both ways — for those who can contribute and those who are in need. It just helps strengthen our community.”