Lives Closer Than You Think
P2P executive director Ceci Maher with volunteer and philanthropist Doon Foster on the new P2P Mobile Food Pantry (aka P2P On Wheels)based in Stamford.
Photo by Peggy Garbus
Since the economic crisis of 2008, it’s no secret that many in Fairfield County have been hit hard. For some, once secure jobs have vanished never to return. Personal savings have been whittled away, 401Ks plundered, and homes foreclosed upon as families have tried hard to right their financial ship.
Today, we keep hearing that the economy is on an uptick, but somehow, it doesn’t seem to be for everyone. The cost of living in Fairfield County is currently one of the highest in the country and the cost of housing often far exceeds 30 percent of household income that is recommended by finanical experts.
Recently, I was shocked to learn that one in six children in Fairfield County goes to bed hungry or food insecure every night. This means that their families lack reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food to keep their children healthy. The effects of food insecurity and poverty can have devastating consequences, particularly on children. Stunted physical growth can limit cognitive abilitiy and academic success, ultimately affecting a child’s future economic outcome.
In neighboring Stamford, 12 percent of population is food insecure. That means that 15,000 people don’t know where their next meal is coming from on a daily basis. What’s even more surprising is that the food insecurity rate in Wilton runs at eight percent. How is this possible?
According to Person 2 Person (P2P)—a community-supported agency that provides emergency assistance for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter—residents-in-need in the Wilton community may feel shame about their circumstances and are often reluctant to acknowledge how much they really need assistance. Sadly, this also means these families or individuals may underutilize resources that might directly help them successfully navigate the tough times and achieve greater economic stability.
While the poverty rate in Wilton is relatively low, 10 percent of our town’s population still struggles to make ends meet. “These are working families that live above the poverty line and earn just enough to cover monthly expenses like housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and taxes,” says P2P executive director and long-time Wilton resident Ceci Maher. “When someone living paycheck to paycheck experiences a situational crisis, such as losing a job or paying unexpected medical bills, P2P is there so they don’t have to choose between paying the utility bill and buying groceries. This is our client base, and we are here to help. Previously, clients could access P2P’s services in Darien and Norwalk, but starting last April, clients can now get help through our new mobile food pantry, P2P On Wheels in Stamford. This expansion continues to break down barriers to access, making more services available throughout Lower Fairfield County.”
The Mobile Food Pantry is staffed by a caseworker who provides counseling services by appointment. It features a full selection of grocery items including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy items, grains, meat and poultry, and shelf-stable goods. Clients receive enough food for three meals a day for seven days for each family member.
P2P on Wheels was partially funded by Wilton residents. With this addition, up to forty more families a day can be provided with nutritious food in their own neighborhoods. Having a caseworker on-site also means that clients have access to counseling and emergency financial services should they need them. The goal is to eventually expand the mobile food pantry concept to other communities in the future.
“Last year, Person-to-Person provided food for 750,000 meals,” says P2P board member Betsy Wilson. “This year P2P will provide food for more than 1,000,000 meals. In addition, Wilton residents will be helped with financials assistance, food, clothing, and other essential services. ”
The holiday season is now upon us and as we plan for fun family get-togethers that are often focused on an abundance of food and the exchange of gifts, it’s a great time to think about ways to help our immediate community. So how can you help? Volunteer, stage a food or clothing drive, donate clothing (particularly warm clothes and coats in colder months), personal care items, gift cards, food and/or money. p2phelps.org