BY BRUNO MATARAZZO JR. REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN March 28, 2020. read full article HERE (Login required)
TORRINGTON — The line forms slowly outside the basement window of Trinity Episcopal Church, where Community Soup Kitchen offers a hot lunch and welcome respite from a crisis — whether that be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or not.
One by one, the homeless, or men and women out of work and struggling to make ends meet, make their way up to the window to be handed kielbasa and sauerkraut, potatoes and salad donated by George’s Restaurant. A four-person crew inside the basement works hard to serve and package the lunches, and uses the window to maintain a safe social distance.
Chris Fedorjaczenko serves kielbasa and sauerkraut into containers at Community Soup Kitchen in Torrington on Wednesday. The soup kitchen is serving meals outside of its basement window because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bruno Matarazzo Jr. Republican-American
“I can’t say thank you enough,” city resident Kyle Sikorski tells the soup kitchen’s executive director, Lisa Hageman, and her staff inside.
An average of 75 people a day were served meals through the basement window last week. Torrington Elks Lodge, Oliver Wolcott Technical High School and Whole Foods also have donated food to Community Soup Kitchen, 220 Prospect St., during a time when demand for assistance is up and contributions are down at the city’s three food pantries.
“The board made a decision that we’re just going to keep going,” Hageman said, referring to the health risk posed by the virus. “Nobody is entering the building. There’s only four
of us in here that have not been around anybody_”
The pandemic’s economic impact caused nearly 3.3 million Americans to file for unemployment benefits last week, a record. Workers in a variety of industries have received pink slips and furloughs, and some small business owners have been forced to close at least temporarily.
Karen Thomas, executive director of Friendly Hands Food Bank at 50 King St., said she has seen three to six new clients a day. Also, a newly created program to hand out bags of food to anyone during the shutdown – no questions asked – has doubled in participants each time, she said.
“We don’t ask about employment, but some people have shared that they were on furlough or they lost their job,” Thomas said. “They come to the window and they’re just so humble. They shared with us that they’re nervous.”
FISH of Northwestern Connecticut’s food pantry at 332 South Main St. also has seen an increase in need as donations have ebbed. Longtime donors like Stop & Shop are not able to keep up as people buy in bulk due to the pandemic.
“There’s less food to donate,” said Deirdre Houlihan DiCara, executive director of FISH. “Let’s say on a Wednesday, we might have picked up 12 boxes or 10 boxes of meat. Now, it’s two boxes and it doesn’t go that far with the number of people needing to use the pantry.”
FISH has more than 1,500 people registered to use the food pantry.
Financial contributions to FISH also have decreased since the stock market crashed.
At FISH’s homeless shelter, 16 residents 60 years and older have been moved out of the South Main Street shelter and moved into a downtown motel. They are being fed by the soup kitchen for lunch and rely on donations from area restaurants for dinner.
The temporary decrease in individuals living in the shelter has allowed a rearrangement of rooms, creating an isolation space in case the virus hits the shelter. So far, that has not happened.
The motel rooms have been paid for with state 211 funding, which is good for two weeks. DiCara said she plans to look for other sources of funding to keep the older population isolated from the shelter.
“My hope is we’ll be able to continue to keep them in a private room at the motel,” DiCara said.