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St. Mary Food Pantry in Jewett City provides in the midst of pandemic

As the number of people in need of food has swelled at St. Mary Food Pantry in Jewett City, so have the hearts of its donors.

Households using the pantry jumped from about 100 before the pandemic began to 190 at the end of March.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when people had been laid off but hadn’t begun receiving unemployment and stimulus checks, there was a sense of desperation with some individuals, said The Rev. Ted Tumicki of St. Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Jewett City.

“People were saying, ‘I don’t know how I am going to pay my bills’ or ‘Thank God I have this food, because right now, this is all we have,’” he said.

After the March 24 distribution, he said, “We lost the supermarkets (being able to buy in bulk). We lost the bread (Bimbo Bakeries USA’s donations) and then we lost half of Gemma E. Moran (food bank) because ... all of a sudden, they didn’t have the food to give....”

At that point, Tumicki said he asked St. Mary Food Pantry Administrator Kathy Avery for six items they needed and emailed the list “to everybody that we could, published it in the Tri-Parish Bulletin … and then all of a sudden, when word got out that we needed this stuff, it was like the floodgates opened, because people were so generous. Some people went out and bought a carload of food to just bring here and give.”

Also, the Lisbon Lions Club recently donated a $6,100 check from bottle and can redemptions and families, Girl/Boy Scout Troops, social groups, A.A. Young, Jr. Hose & Ladder Co. 1 of Jewett City, banks and their workers have all either dropped off food or checks.

The outpouring of support “has been a hugely positive thing…. Definitely a shot in the arm,” Tumicki said. In the midst of all the “heaviness,” he added, “all of a sudden you have this bright light that was just shining for all to see here.”

Then there are the two families who have been bringing vegetables from their gardens. Avery believes “it’s just a natural human thing” that people want to share what they have.

Tumicki remembered one time this summer a patron brought 60 cucumbers to the pantry when they picked up their food. “That’s what is wonderful, the give and take there,” he said.

After people began receiving their checks, some of the patrons stopped coming. However, now that the stimulus checks have ended, some individuals have returned, raising the number of households in need to 144 recently, he said.

Each household receives fresh produce, canned fruits/vegetables, bread, dry goods such as pasta, rice, or ramen noodles, as well as cereal, juice, diced tomatoes or tomato sauce and a portion of chicken, pork or beef.

Tumicki said they’re preparing for the “long haul because right now everything is in a state of flux…. Now that schools are starting again, I am expecting another shift (in supply and demand). When we hit Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am expecting another shift. If there is a second wave of this (pandemic), you’ll see another shift. The key word here is flexibility, and that is what this has been teaching us.”

Avery said they hope the food pantry will be able to give out turkeys for Thanksgiving and ham, beef or poultry for Christmas, but that “will depend on what is donated and what is available.”

While some of the patrons and food pantry volunteers have returned to work, Tumicki said, “We have also heard a few instances where the furloughs have turned into layoffs.”

Volunteering at the food pantry since 2006 is fulfilling work, but “much more physically demanding now than it was before,” Avery said. “We’re packing 140 boxes and bags and rolling boxes out.”

To protect the health of volunteers and recipients, a table is set up at the edge of the rectory garage (where the prepared boxes and bags stand ready) and food is handed to people outside.

Tumicki is also involved with this physical work and in greeting patrons when they arrive – which is something he looks forward to.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “I’m not in an office. It’s a nice break and it gets me out among the people more,” an outreach activity he especially appreciated during the shutdown when “we weren’t having Masses.”

Additionally, he goes with volunteer Steve Champagne at 4 a.m. the day of the distribution to pick up the bread at Bimbo Bakeries USA in Niantic. Champagne also picks up groceries from Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank in New London and donated chips from Frito Lay in Windham County.

At various times, a staff of volunteers shops at supermarkets, stocks pantry shelves and packs boxes and bags.

As time goes on, Tumicki said, they continue to “fine tune” the distribution process “to make it go smoother.”

Initially, Tumicki said they were buying boxes and “boxing groceries in whatever box we could find and so they were not all the same size. “Then, Miyoshi America, Inc. of Dayville and Nutmeg Container Corp. (a division of Unicorr Packaging Group) of Putnam came in with a huge donation of boxes and it’s really helpful, because they’re all the same size. You can stack them.”

Half of the original inventory of new boxes remains. Once they’re gone, Avery said they’ll have to buy them again.

Also, instead of moving the boxes on rollers, they now move the packed boxes on carts which have been fitted with larger casters. “That has been a godsend and much easier,” he said.

St. Mary Food Pantry continues to evolve. It was originally started around 1989, Avery said.

Bags of food were given to those in desperate need out of the rectory front door. Later, they were given to patrons from the rectory basement. Then, in approximately 2005 as part of their service to the community, Deacons Paul and Tony “expanded it to shopping. They changed the model (to “Shopper’s Choice”) from picking up a bag (“Grab and Go”) to actually coming in to shop,” she said, describing the current food dissemination system as a hybrid of previous approaches.

St. Mary Food Pantry distribution is held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from 10 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m., except in December, when it will be held on Dec. 8 only.

The pantry mainly serves people who live in Jewett City, Griswold, Lisbon, Voluntown, southern Plainfield and southern Canterbury. People must financially qualify for the program. Income amounts vary depending on household size. Individuals are asked to bring photo identification with their name and address.

The pantry is accepting donations and is most in need of canned carrots, green beans and peas, peanut butter, instant mashed potatoes, boxed macaroni and cheese, baked beans, chicken noodle soup and beef stew. Checks should be made payable to “St. Mary Food Pantry” and mailed to 34 North Main Street, Jewett City, CT 06351.

To donate food, call Administrator Kathy Avery at (860) 376-2044, ext. 108, or email her at foodpantry.hscc@yahoo.com. For more information, visit stmaryjc.weconnect.com.

Editor's Note: This corrects an earlier version.

Masses continue at St. Mary

St. Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary has been holding daily Masses inside since June 8 and Sunday services since July 5 at 25 percent capacity. Patrons practice social distancing and wear masks.

Patrons should call to make a reservation to attend a service at St. Mary Church in Jewett City, Saints Thomas and Anne Church in Voluntown and St. Catherine Church in Preston, because of limited seating due to Governor Ned Lamont’s order, “which limits churches to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 people,” the Rev. Ted Tumicki said.

“We still have people who are hesitant to come…who don’t want to come, because they have higher-risk health conditions. So we have made some arrangements. There is a Mass during the week at each of the three parishes reserved specifically for people with higher health risks.”

For more information about services at all three services, call (860) 376-2044, or visit stmaryjc.weconnect.com/temporary-mass.

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