Wilton Food Pantry: Update and Outlook

The Wilton Food Pantry shelves in a file photo from 2018.

The Wilton Food Pantry, a service provided by the Social Services Department of the town of Wilton, has always received generous support from the community; during the pandemic has been no exception.

Sarah Heath, Director of Social Services, recently spoke with GOOD Morning Wilton about the latest changes in the food pantry’s operations, the best way the public can help now, and her outlook for this vital resource as the pandemic evolves.

Heath began with a reminder that the pantry serves 350 eligible Wilton residents who struggle to afford food and groceries. Many of the items they need are not covered by SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps).

“For a senior citizen [for example] on a limited income, SNAP doesn’t cover all their food. [The Wilton Food Pantry] is meant to supplement and help with those expenses.”

When the Comstock Community Center was closed due to the pandemic, the food pantry was temporarily relocated to the Wilton Police Station. It has recently returned to Comstock, but with some important modifications.

New safety procedures have been implemented to minimize human interaction. The pantry will be open to eligible residents on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12-4 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. It is only accessible by the building’s side entrance.

Face coverings/masks and gloves or hand sanitizer will be required prior to entering the food pantry. The number of people allowed in the food pantry at the same time will also be limited in order to allow for proper distancing.

The shed behind Comstock is accessible for donors who wish to drop off non-perishable foods, personal care or household products for the Wilton Food Pantry.

Donations may be made on the days the food pantry isn’t open (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends) at any time, and should be placed in the shed that is located at the rear of the building (see photo). The shed has replaced the tented area that had been temporarily erected alongside the parking lot.

The pantry is currently accepting only non-perishable items. Tuna, cereal, and peanut butter, for example, are always needed. Personal care items, such as shampoo and body wash, and household products, especially paper goods, are also needed. Perishable food cannot be accepted at this time.

Donations can be made without prior notice, but Heath very much appreciates advance communication to help optimize inventory. “Of course anyone is welcome to drop off donations. But I appreciate when people coordinate with me [first] and ask for suggested items.”

Communication can also help facilitate the drop-off and receiving process, so Heath can arrange to have carts ready, for example. “I also like to be able to see [donors] so I can say thank you and recognize [their efforts].”

Donors, especially groups who would like to organize a food drive, may call 203.834.6238 or email Heath to discuss details.

Editor’s note:  The Kiwanis Club is organizing a gift card drive at the Village Market this weekend to benefit the Wilton Food Pantry. See our article for details.

When the pandemic first hit, Heath reported there was an immediate and generous outpouring of support and donations to the pantry. “This community is amazing,” she said.

Since the early days of the pandemic, Heath has seen some of the urgency dissipate, but she is concerned that some relief may run out. “Right now I’m seeing people stabilized with unemployment benefits. Some people were unable to pay rent and the bills, but for now, no evictions are taking place and the power isn’t being cut. But that is going to change eventually.”

She worries we may not have experienced the full impact yet. “Some people may have fallen on hard times, but they have some savings, so we won’t know [about their need] until a little further down the road,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s not for a year or even longer that they come in for help.”

Heath emphasizes that Wilton residents do not need to wait until their circumstances become desperate before reaching out to her; in fact, support from the food pantry can help them to better manage their other expenses during these challenging times.

Heath urges any Wilton resident to call or email her to confidentially discuss eligibility to receive goods from the Wilton Food Pantry. They may also find information on the state of Connecticut’s website.

A Major Development With SNAP

Earlier this month, and in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Connecticut Department of Social Services announced a major new development:  online purchasing of food with SNAP benefits is now available.

According to the DSS website, “After federal approval and successful system testing by the state’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) vendor… SNAP enrollees are able to use SNAP benefits on their EBT debit-type card to purchase eligible food items online for delivery or curbside pickup at participating food retailers.” Those retailers include Amazon (including Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh), 12 Walmart stores, and 21 ShopRite stores.

Federal rules do not allow any SNAP benefits to be used for shipping, delivery or service fees, but Amazon waives fees for orders over $35.