Mayors neighboring Hartford launch weekly distribution to address regional food insecurity


With food insecurity a persistent concern for families, mayors from three towns neighboring Hartford banded together to launch a weekly food distribution event this month, acknowledging the challenge knows no borders.

Friday marked the first of four such events, measures to bridge the gap for families struggling amid a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has slowed the economy and left many jobless. By 10 a.m., scores of cars wound through cones in the sprawling Rehoboth Church of God parking lot.

With little pause, cars, SUVs and trucks swept through a gantry of volunteers, who quickly loaded a gallon of milk, a box of fresh produce, meat and dairy products into trunks. Within minutes, the line had quickly diminished as the volunteers stood awaiting new arrivals until the roughly 1,700 boxes of fresh food were gone.

“We find that if we can come together, pool our resources together, it benefits the community,” said Bloomfield Mayor Suzette Debeatham-Brown. “In this situation, we are talking about food scarcity and food insecurity, we thought it was important we service the community in an impactful way.”

Debeatham-Brown and West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor worked with Windsor Mayor Don Trinks to organize the event they’ve dubbed Mayors Unite.

The town officials acknowledged that much like COVID-19 1/4 u2032s impact on health, its economic impact and the resulting increase in food insecurity is felt across the area.

“You would think, ‘Oh, West Hartford is perfect, they don’t have any needs.’ But we realized there’s needs in these communities,” Debeatham-Brown said.

Cantor said in West Hartford alone, food distribution has increased more than 75% year-over-year.

A recent sweeping survey from DataHaven showed that 9% of Connecticut residents were experiencing some form of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The distribution partnership between Bloomfield, West Hartford and Windsor offers food through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that works with local farmers.

This Friday, the boxes included apples, onions, greens, yogurt, hot dogs and other items.

Looking at the vehicles that passed, officials noted the scope of food insecurity’s impact during this pandemic.

“If you look at the cars that pass, it’s people from all walks of life,” Cantor said. No questions were asked of those who drove up, and officials said the events were not strictly limited to residents of the three towns.

“We realize that there is a need and the important thing for us is to be able to make an impact,” Debeatham-Brown said.

Food distribution programs like Friday’s have grown in number during the pandemic and supplement larger efforts by Connecticut’s largest food banks that draw thousands to drive up and grab food.

The state, early in the pandemic, also made efforts to increase food assistance benefits amid a swell of joblessness brought on by the swift downturn in the economy.

A similar distribution event planned by local leaders in Bristol drew hundreds.

The food distribution program hosted by West Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor leaders will continue Oct. 16, 23, 30 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Rehoboth Church of God, 1170 Blue Hills Ave. in Bloomfield.

Nicholas Rondinone can be reached at [email protected]

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