There’s a new store in town, one that provides food for more than 200 residents monthly. It’s the all-volunteer Cheshire Community Food Pantry on Railroad Avenue, a renovated building that offers a country market feel for qualified shoppers during their weekly appointments.
“We’re very, very fortunate. The volunteer base comes from a broad spectrum, not just churches,” said co-director Fellis. (All volunteers asked that their last names not be used.) The pantry has a group of 60 volunteers and five co-directors.
“There are days we have people in the waiting room. Clients are scheduled to shop in 15 minute increments,” Fellis said. The qualified recipients shop alone, walking down the aisle where canned goods, pasta and other staples are neatly stacked. Shoppers are provided with 10 pounds of food per person, per week, she said.
“The need is more than we realized,” said Paul Bowman, president of the pantry’s board of directors. “We really appreciate the support the businesses, residents and service clubs have given. To be successful, we need support, we count on their help,” he said.
The pantry’s new location opened in November after having been housed at St. Bridget Church for decades. The new building is four times as large than the original location with 1,700 square feet of space for the store and grocery warehouse.
A large floor scale weighs the groceries that are selected by the shoppers and the total is recorded on a form that tracks the date of the visits and the amount of food selected during each shopping trip.
Bowman recently asked the Town Council to consider a budget item of $15,000 as a subsidy to offset the operational cost of the pantry. “There is no paid person. We may need to hire a part-time person to coordinate with volunteers and apply for grants,” he told the council.
“We really do need the money. If during the budget process, you could put in a line item on an annual basis,” Bowman asked the council on Feb. 8. The building is leased from Frank Mazzella who had used it as a garage for his nearby business, Ye Old Station Auto Body Inc. on West Main Street.
The new building has a number of skylights which brighten the interior without the use of electricity. “Not only is the space wonderful, there is a very nice energy here,” Fellis said. She said the shelving was donated, as was the furniture, filing cabinets and some equipment.
“It was (renovated) in 45 days from permit to opening day,” Bowman said. “The town of Cheshire had volunteers from every department.” Bowman also noted the Cheshire Food Drive donated 40,000 pounds of food from their fall event.
The Cheshire Stop & Shop Supermarket on Highland Avenue has collected 400 pounds of food and home supplies this month alone, said co-director Joanne. She said the store began a program about a month ago in which shoppers can buy a pre-filled bag of groceries and supplies that is donated to the pantry. A display near the front of the store contains reusable shopping bags marked with either a $5 or $10 sign based on the value of its contents.
“The future is bright. We hope the need goes down, but we can’t count on that,” Bowman said.
Editors note: The pantry is open five days a week, with morning appointments on Mon., Wed. and Fri., and afternoon and evening appointments on Tues. and Thur. To get more information on using the pantry, contact the town’s Youth and Social Services Department at 203-271-6690 or go to their website at: www.cheshirect.org/youthsocial