Food Bank Shelves Are Bare, Demand Remains
WETHERSFIELD - She always looked to the Wethersfield Food Bank for a little help in feeding herself and her son, who she is raising on her own. When her food stamp benefits were reduced last year, it became more than just extra--it has been a go-to resource as she continues the seemingly endless search for work.

       Jane, a pseudonym for the Wethersfield resident who asked to remain anonymous, is just a microcosm of the state’s 7.4 percent unemployment rate--or, 137,600 people, according to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wethersfield’s own unemployment rate is 6.5 percent, with 865 people out of work, according to the Bureau.

       “The food situation has become dire, and my need for employment is dire,” Jane said. “Things have been tough economically, and putting food on the table sometimes is tough. It’s stressful when you have to worry about how you’re going to feed your family.”

       Rebecca, who asked that her last name not be used, is feeding two families--her own children and her grandchildren, because their parents are often tied-up working.

       “[With] the federal cutbacks, [food assistance is] not enough sometimes,” said Rebecca. “Plus, sometimes I’m feeding my grandchildren, so I use the food bank to make up for that.”

       And she’s not alone--Wethersfield’s food bank serves more than 100 households per month, according to Marita Eppler, who runs the effort from within the town’s Department of Human Services.

       “They’ve been wonderful,” Jane said. “And with all of these cuts, I think a lot of people are relying on them.”

       With the winter and holiday season past its close, Eppler anticipates having less to go around, unless the food bank gets some more donations to replenish its shelves.

       “We rely mostly on donations and this is the time of year when things start to slow down, “Eppler said. “We get a lot during the winter because of the holidays, and after that it goes down, especially with school being out and vacations. We’re the last thing on people’s minds, so our shelves are pretty bare.”

       Meanwhile, individuals like Jane are seeing less food assistance and higher prices at the supermarket.

       “They’re always cutting back on them, but lately it’s been worse,” Jane said. “Everything’s going up and everything else is getting cut.”

       Eppler doesn’t typically see the numbers of households served change much one way or another, and it doesn’t increase dramatically during the holiday season, like in other towns, but one thing that does fluctuate is which segment of the population--children, seniors, or adults--are served more at a given point in the year.

       Children, for example, might depend more on food bank services once school is out, Eppler said.

       “You don’t have school breakfast, so you’re having to feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said.

       In March, the food bank served 34 children--down from 54 in January, when 91 adults came in, according to statistics from the Department of Human Services.

       “We had a lot of adults run out of their unemployment benefits in December,” Eppler said.

       Nationally, around 1.3 million people were not able to extend their unemployment benefits due to federal cuts. Jane is well past that point, but still cannot find work.

       “I keep looking and I’m not able to find gainful employment,” she said. “I can’t even get a little job and I’m willing to work anywhere.”