BRIDGEPORT—The demand for food resources at Catholic Charities of Fairfield County has increased 50 percent in recent weeks and may double because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to Executive Director Michael Donoghue.
The three soup kitchens that serve the county have seen a significant rise in demand as more people turn to them at a time when other food pantries and cafes have closed, he said. The need is so great that entire families have been showing up and waiting in long lines for meals.
“Just about all of our 30-plus programs are open,” Donoghue said. “This is when our clients really need us. The working poor, the homeless, and the elderly are the ones being hurt the most by this crisis, and our mission has always been to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors in Fairfield County.”
The food services teams of Catholic Charities have been dealing with increasing demand at New Covenant Center in Stamford, Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and Morning Glory Breakfast Program in Danbury.
In Stamford, where there is no other food cafe for eight miles, the staff at New Covenant Center is serving 300 meals a day, up from 200 last year, and the total could pass 400, Donoghue said.
Because food pantries and services in the area have shut down, Catholic Charities is assisting other non-profits that serve the homeless and immigrant community, including Pacific House shelter, he said.
New Covenant Center also runs a food pantry three days a week for low-income residents, who can receive up to 10 days of groceries a month.
“That demand has gone up substantially, and we expect it to rise even more,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-century pandemic, and if there is any time the services of Catholic Charities are needed, it is right now.”
Because of the regulations that require social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, people are not permitted to congregate in the cafeteria, and the Center has been offering takeout for clients.
Similar restrictions are in place at Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport, which previously served breakfast and lunch and is now providing some 250 takeout meals a day, up from 150. Because other soup kitchens in Bridgeport have closed, Catholic Charities is providing assistance to them, along with several shelters.
In Danbury, which is served by the Morning Glory Breakfast Program, Catholic Charities has an outreach team that is working with the city to provide food and blankets for the homeless after the shelter was forced to close and residents were relocated to a nearby gymnasium, Donoghue said.
“In an environment like this, anyone who is homeless certainly needs food, along with those who have lost their jobs and are trying to make ends meet to pay their rent,” Donoghue said.
Catholic Charities also operates a Meals on Wheels program in lower Fairfield County, which provides 275 meals a day to the home-bound elderly. A network of eight drivers delivers prepackaged meals to shut-ins.
“In many cases, our driver is the only person these elderly people will see on a given day,” Donoghue said. “They will go to the door to make sure they are OK and drop off the meal.”
That demand has also increased significantly, he said.
“I can’t say enough about the employees of Catholic Charities who put themselves in harm’s way every single day,” he said. “They are showing up to work every day. I am so proud to be part of this organization, which helps the poor and vulnerable, especially at a time like this.”
The demand on employees is particularly difficult now because many of the 2000 local volunteers who assisted the staff are over 65 years old, retired and in high-risk categories. They have been advised to stay home to avoid contracting COVID-19, he said.
At the same time, Donoghue said, supporters of Catholic Charities are helping out in other ways, and many people have been buying extra groceries and dropping them off at the soup kitchens.
Catholic Charities also runs Room to Grow Preschool in Norwalk, which is temporarily closed due to the Governor’s orders on school closures. However, the teachers and director have been doing food collections at the school once a week and developed a system that lets families drive by and pick up a bag of groceries.
Donoghue said the crisis has also strained services that support immigrants and provide behavioral health counseling, particularly among those suffering depression and anxiety.
“This is the time we need the help and support of the community,” Donoghue said. “We need donations because our costs have gone up as we serve people in need and offer assistance to other non-profits.”
To make a donation or use Amazon Wish List to purchase supplies such as food containers, bottled water and bags for the soup kitchens, go to the website of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, www.ccfairfield.org and click on the link “How you can help us respond to the Covid-19 crisis.”
“Catholic Charities is doing everything we can to step up and step into the void that has been created,” Donoghue said. “We need donations now more than ever to serve the least of our brothers as we’re asked to do in Matthew:25.”