SHORELINE — It was a loose leaf sheet of paper Scotch-taped onto the back door of the Community Dining Room on Harrison Avenue in Branford last Thursday. Under the note was a donation of canned foods.
“We wanted to help you continue your mission to serve our communities as best we could during these difficult times,” it read. “You do amazing things. Keep up the awesome work!”
Three weeks into the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, gratitude remains the operative word at the Shoreline’s two area food pantries, Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries and the Community Dining Room.
SSK&P, which affords food and fellowship to people in need in 11 towns, from Madison to East Lyme to Chester, provided 19,000 pounds of food to guests last week, according to Executive Director Amy Hollis.
“It’s a significant increase,” she said. “We are anticipating continued high numbers at our pantries.”
While the nine meal sites are temporarily closed, all five of SSKP’s food pantries — in Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Clinton, and East Lyme — are open.
To view locations and which day of the week each food pantry is open, visit shorelinesoupkitchens.org/get-help.
For information for those who are food-insecure in Branford, see below.
Regarding fresh, nonperishable items that people could donate, Hollis offered the following guidelines.
“When you go to the supermarket, what’s really helpful is whatever you think you need is probably what other people are looking for as well,” she said. “Tuna, pasta, peanut butter, meals in a can all are key items, as are staples like white rice and black beans.”
She added that cereal and oatmeal are always needed.
“People are very thankful that we’re open,” she said. “Not just guests. People are so grateful even to have an opportunity to volunteer.”
While physical distancing limits the number of volunteers the food pantries can allow, “we are grateful for the volunteers who are calling and emailing and getting on those lists.”
Morale remains “very good,” she said. “Our mission is to provide food and we’re able to do that so there’s the sense of ‘yes, we can keep doing this.’ There’s stability.”
Over at the Community Dining Room in Branford, Executive Director Judith Barron sounded a similar refrain.
“We’re serving double the amount of food we’re used to, and we’ve now had a 10 percent increase in the homebound population for food, but our drivers and our volunteers are maintaining,” she said.
Lunch continues to be available from Sunday to Friday from noon to 1 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon. The new lunch to-go is served in disposable containers, with pick-up at the side kitchen door. To ensure social distancing, the CDR last week taped out lines for guests in the parking lot.
Barron said she’s been “blown away” by the amount of businesses donating trays of food, including Skappo in New Haven, Hornet’s Nest, Sweets on Main, Vigliotti Landscape & Construction, Carbonella & Desarbo, Cilantro Specialty Foods, and Regal Cinemas.
JFA Management came through with a $200 credit for trays of food from Love Bakery & Cafe that was enough to provide lunch for the participants on Friday. A board member is working with a food distributor for more takeout containers. There have been donations of Girl Scout cookies. Condiment packages are pouring in.
“People and businesses you wouldn’t even think of are remembering there are people out there in need and not thinking twice,” Barron said.
Those interested in donating a tray of food from a local restaurant should contact Barron at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-488-9750 (ext. 4) to make arrangements for delivery.
The outpouring of food donations prompted Barron to expand Friday Night take-out from twice a month to every Friday throughout the month of April. Those in need should call Tabby Brown at 203-488-9750 (ext. 2) by 1 pm on Wednesday.
Those working to keep the community fed have felt another byproduct of the unprecedented generosity.
“With only five volunteers in the kitchen that are cooking and packaging and getting these meals out — double the amount we’re used to — they’re tired,” Barron said. “We need them strong and healthy. These donations are so helpful for giving them a rest and providing meals for everyone in need.”
Morale remains high. “We’re staying calm and following policies and procedures, and taking care of each other,” Barron said.
“I think we all recognize that we can’t do this alone, we have to be there for each other.”
Not just the staff, it seems. Or the participants. Everyone in the community, as that handwritten note on the backdoor demonstrated.
“It puts a smile on your face when it’s the first thing you see when you walk in and getting read for a busy day,” Barron said. “It just warms your heart and feeds your soul.”
To help the CDR, visit the wish list on its facebook page, which includes cans of tuna and low sodium soups, bottled salad dressings, single butter packets, Ziploc sandwich bags, takeout container, and diapers (size 5&6).
Monetary donations are welcome. A $35 donation will help support the CDR 35th Anniversary campaign and comes with a snappy T shirt.