The number of households using the New Canaan Food Pantry has risen more than 60% amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, officials said Tuesday.
Pre-COVID, the town saw about 40 households availing themselves of the pantry every two weeks, according to Human Services Director Bethany Zaro.
This month, more than 65 households are using it, she told members of the Board of Selectmen.
“Everything has increased—the money needed, the time,” she said during the Board’s regular meeting, held via videoconference. “People are so grateful for it and it’s definitely part of the town. The uptick has been incredible and it does reflect the times.”
The comments came as the selectmen voted 3-0 to approve a new lease with St. Mark’s Episcopal Church for the pantry, which is located on the organization’s Oenoke Ridge campus. It calls for the town to pay $1,000 in monthly rent for use of space for the food pantry, down from $1,250 in the past, Zaro said. A prior lease had been drawn up in 2015, she said.
“They have been very kind and during these trying time, they gave us rent at no cost for a few months and then for $600,” Zaro said. “They were working with us. The concept of the food pantry at St. Mark’s has been there forever and we have a great system going. They would like us to stay there. We want to stay there.”
The lease, which runs through 2021, also calls for the town to provide snow and ice removal for pantry access, and to carry liability insurance of at least $1 million.
On an individual basis, use of the food pantry has risen from about 130 people to about 180 people amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Zaro said.
The selectmen asked whether the the food pantry is its own 501c3 nonprofit organization (no), whether the prior lease had a formal termination date in it (no) and whether rent payments to St. Mark’s are built into the Human Services budget (no it’s paid out of a “Special Projects Fund”).
Selectman Nick Williams asked whether the pantry operation has enough volunteers to run the facility.
Zaro said, “Yes, physically, financially people do understand that it’s needed and personally, as a resident, I feel St. Mark’s needs to be compensated for this huge space that they are offering to us.”