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New Covenant Center REASON FOR THE SEASON

December 24, 2018

STAMFORD — In the last six years, the city’s largest food pantry has more than doubled the amount of meals provided to those living below the poverty line, and the need for food donations continues to rise.

That’s why volunteers at the pantry were at LaRocca’s Country Market on Old Long Ridge Road Monday collecting food donations and money to help those less fortunate.

“It’s a 365-day-a-year problem, but it’s the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — those six weeks of joyfulness among many and plentiful bounty on the table — that remind many of us of what we have and what many don’t have,” said John Gutman, executive director of New Covenant Center.

The center’s food pantry now serves 600,000 meals every year, between the daily ones offered to guests as part of the center’s soup kitchen, and the food donated to families. The pantry serves more than 525 families and 1,250 individuals each month.

The families who benefit from the pantry receive 10 days worth of groceries each month.

Roughly 10 percent of Stamford residents live in poverty, and about half of the students in Stamford are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, according to End Hunger Connecticut, a statewide anti-hunger and food security organization.

For the second year, LaRocca’s opened its doors on Christmas Eve for the New Covenant Center, a program of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, to hold a food drive outside the store. The center also held one the day before Thanksgiving when it received 2,500 donated items and $500 from customers.

Gutman said the pantry has room to grow with a capacity for 2,000 people. The challenge is getting enough food to increase the amount of families who can benefit from it.

“The need is there,” Gutman said. “Our challenge is identifying additional resources to bring in food on a more regular basis.”

Tommy LaRocca, owner of LaRocca’s Market, said he was first approached about making a basket of items for the center’s Harvest Breakfast fundraiser by longtime customer Paul Harinstein, who serves on the center’s board.

The market has since donated more items every year and even cooked and served a meal once a month at the center’s soup kitchen.

LaRocca then offered to use his market as the location for a food drive.

On Monday, the inside of LaRocca’s had a section dedicated to the food drive with preselected items offered at discounted prices. LaRocca asked staff at the pantry to send him a list of the most needed items, which he set aside for customers to buy and donate.

The most needed items include chicken noodle soup, cereal, sugar, flour, black beans and oil.

The staff at the store even put some items into paper bags with affixed price tags, so customers could select donated goods without putting much thought into what to get.

“There are so many people less fortunate than we are,” he said. “We are in North Stamford...we don’t really see it all the time that people need food, but it’s important to recognize it, it’s important to acknowledge it.”

To learn more about volunteering or hosting a food drive for the New Covenant Center, contact David Lovegreen at 203-964-8228, ext. 408, or dlovegreen@ccfc-ct.org.

ignacio.laguarda@hearstmediact.com

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