Food Bankers Strategize On Combating Hunger

Lucy Gellman Photo If you’re chronically hungry in New Haven in the year 2020, a handy, up-to-date “street sheet” will tell you where to get a hot meal or pick up food if your SNAP assistance is running out.   

At least, that’s the hope.

The idea was one of several floated Tuesday afternoon at Immanuel Baptist Church, where around 30 New Haven, Hamden, and East Haven emergency food service providers gathered to discuss the future and growth of the six-district Connecticut Food Bank in order to feed more people.

Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) Director Steve Werlin presented the idea of creating information-packed street sheets —  directories of agencies and organizations providing “food, clothing, shelter, and emergency services” for downtown business owners, online and printed as brochures .

The meeting came as the food bank’s 650 member organizations are looking for ways to work together more closely, said Chief Executive Officer Bernie Beaudreau.

Currently, the organization’s mission is “fighting hunger for people in need.” Across the state, that’s about 437,530 people, or 12.2 percent of the state’s population, according to the organization’s website. A large part of that work is dedicated to fighting food insecurity — people who go without meals at least once a month because they can’t afford them — so that it becomes less of a systemic problem tied to poverty and mental health.

From 2017 to 2020, CT Food Bank is rolling out a new plan to feed more hungry people in Connecticut. In seeking to grow its operations from $8 million to $10 million annually, it hopes to provide more healthy food to 200,000 people a year, up from 150,000 people. That shakes out roughly to 25 million meals — or 30 million pounds of food — distributed by 2020, up from 18 million meals, or 22 million pounds of food, that the organization provided last year.

Or, in terms of food insecurity, it means getting to about 60 percent of the state’s food insecure population. The food bank has a head start: a $75,000 grant from Feeding America for refrigerators and freezers for smaller organizations in its network.   

“We’re not going to do our work in a quiet way anymore,” said Beaudreau at the meeting. “We want to make a lot of noise ... we think we can improve food deliveries and distribution if we have more coordination and collaboration.”

Werlin’s idea to collaborate on creating an improved street sheet is intended to get the word out about the days and nights different soup kitchens and food pantries are open, he said; it comes at a moment when many clients and providers alike complain that they find the current 211 helpline “quite cumbersome” to use. The effort to create an improved street sheet would bring together information from 211 itself, area emergency food providers, and the Town Green Special Service’s District current street sheet.

The first street sheet — a brochure of agencies and organizations providing “food, clothing, shelter, and emergency services” for downtown business owners — was born under former Town Green Director Scott Healy in 2006 or 2007, according to Town Green Director Win Davis. Town Green printed and distributed them to downtown business owners and residents, and frequently handed them out to panhandlers who asked for help or financial assistance. Over the years, Town Green printed more copies and updated the information every two to three years. Werlin himself recalled working with an intern at Town Green in 2012 to change outdated information about food service providers; that’s where his awareness of the street sheets originally came from.

But at least two years ago, according to Davis, Town Green stopped printing the street sheets. This meant that people looking for food, shelter, or other services needed to rely more on services like 211, which people in New Haven and outside of New Haven alike have been using with mixed success for some 17 years. Started by United Way and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems in 2000, 211 is a hotline for emergency services (like 911, if younger and less universally known). After growing out of the United Way of Greater Atlanta in that year, it spread across the country, with mixed success. Sherry Grant, member services coordinator at the Food Bank, said its success in Connecticut has been hindered by limited and outdated information on institutions, which don’t always answer or call back when 211 calls with a request to update information. 

Werlin’s proposal is to have Town Green and 211 join forces to create physical copies and an online version of the street sheets, using the most up-to-date information that both of the organizations have. His proposal comes too late for 2017, but could happen before 2020, depending on Town Green’s resources and the availability of someone in the organization to work with 211. This year, Town Green has already worked with Liberty Community Services, Columbus House, and the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) to develop a new digital street sheet that it plans to release on its website next week. Thanks to a similar emergency services guide in hard copy by the ant-blight Livable City Initiative, Town Green has decided not to print the sheets this year. But Director Win Davis said he hasn’t ruled it out for the future.

“We’re always looking for ways to benefit our constituents of downtown,” said Davis when reached for comment on the suggestion. “I would need to know more about it first, but we’re certainly open to these things.”

Other ideas at the meeting included sharing the trucks that food service providers use for pickup, delivery, and distribution of food, mobilizing donors with new in-person and social media approaches, networking in-district to coordinate services, asking food pantry clients if they would be willing to volunteer as well, and working with clients at soup kitchens and food pantries to identify changing patterns in who is food insecure.

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posted by: wendy1 on May 18, 2017  9:12pm

We need to keep a hotline and a street sheet readily available to all the folks poring into town who dont know the ropes.  Yes we need to keep food and clothing available now.  Housing the homeless must be addressed ASAP.  With all the money in town, Gov., banks, 1%‘ers, Yale,  it is disgusting that nothing is being done except at a snail’s pace while people suffer and die slowly in public view because they are destitute.  It is evil to ignore homelessness.

posted by: Billy on May 19, 2017  12:16pm

I think the foundation of the information problem is spelled out clearly in this article. There are several different resources listed in the article for getting information about food and other help.  In typical New Haven fashion, non-profits are working on their own versions of a resource guide. Even when partnerships are formed, as is mentioned regarding the newest iteration of the Street Sheet, those partnerships is working in their own siloes.

The alders spent a lot of time, money, and energy on the Youth Map.  When that became obsolete, the City spent more money on Get Connected New Haven.  I fully support their efforts to create a comprehensive information portal for residents looking for assistance.  I think it’s long past time for everyone to get on the same page, and work toward having ONE comprehensive and consistently updated resource.  I know that’s not the New Haven non-profit way…but maybe that’s part of the reason that these problems seem so intractable.  Is this about non-profits having work to do, or this about getting help to people who need it?

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 21, 2017  9:26pm

This is the sort of thing that would be really helpful also for church offices downtown and in the neighborhoods, for the many occasions when the doorbell rings and somebody is asking for help.  Urban clergy and church secretaries are not born knowing this information, and it can take years of on-the-job trial and error to build a personal rolodex of contacts and resources.  A well-edited, regularly updated sheet of this kind is an obvious boon for folks in the trenches of urban ministry, yet I’ve seen how hard it is to make it happen.

I hope the developers of this resource will make sure it gets not only to church offices but to the public library and to any merchants who may want to have copies available to give to panhandlers working their doorways or sidewalks.