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    Friday, October 07, 2022

    Food giveaways helped Groton mother keep family fed during COVID-19 pandemic

    Thames Valley Council for Community Action employees Megan Brown, left, and Jason Martin add bags of donated food to the collection pile Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, during the 22nd annual Big Y-TVCCA-WCTY food drive in the parking lot of Big Y on Salem Turnpike in Norwich. Groton resident Amanda Gimbut works for TVCCA, an agency that provides social services to low- and middle-income residents. The job has made it easier for Gimbut to know about initiatives like the food boxes from United Way’s food drives. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Almost half of those in a survey by Pew Research Center think it will take them three years or more to get back to where they were financially a year ago — including about one in 10 who don't think their finances will ever recover. The Day talked to three people about how the pandemic has impacted them and how much help the federal stimulus is providing.

    Groton — When the COVID-19 pandemic affected her finances, Amanda Gimbut found help she hadn’t known before.

    While she’s thankful to have kept her job throughout the pandemic, taking care of her preschool-age son has meant finding supplementary ways to find food. She worked from home for three months and was glad to be home with her son, but then her office opened back up.

    “Child care wasn’t open when I went back to work, so I had to take a couple days off and take a pay cut,” she said. “That put us back financially where I had to tap into stuff that I didn’t want to tap into, like money we had put aside for a vacation to go away for Christmas.”

    With her son not at school, Gimbut said she had to buy more groceries.

    “He used to be getting lunch at school. The community really helped by doing free lunches through the Groton school system, so I took advantage of that,” she said. “Being home and having to cook more, we were ordering food out more, too, because the stores were running out of everything. We had to be mindful of how we spent our money, whereas during a normal day it’s like, ‘Oh, $5 isn’t that much money.’ Right now, $5 is a lot.”

    Related stories:Groton woman faced reduced work hours and caught COVID-19Pawcatuck resident will use stimulus money to pay rent, bills

    Gimbut works for Thames Valley Council for Community Action, an agency providing social services to low- and middle-income residents. The job has made it easier for Gimbut to know about initiatives like the food boxes from United Way’s food drives. Jennifer Blanco, with United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, said the drive-thru food giveaway events, held throughout the region, have drawn large crowds and long lines during the pandemic.

    Gimbut said the food boxes were especially helpful at the beginning of the pandemic when milk ran out quickly at stores, as her growing son drinks a great deal of milk.

    This isn’t the first time Gimbut has faced financial difficulties, she said.

    “Nothing too major, but stuff we had to learn to stay within our means and budget,” she said. “Both myself and my significant other get paid biweekly, and thankfully that helps with our schedules — he gets paid one week, I get paid the other — but we have to live within the paychecks. It’s hard to have to learn how to live paycheck to paycheck. I wish we had a little more security so that we could know we’ll be OK.”

    Gimbut praised community members and organizations for working to help people struggling during the pandemic. She brought up Groton’s monthly free community dinners for families. “We took them up on that,” she said.

    “It’s awesome to see people come together in this time of need, and it’s welcoming when people are helping out others. It could be a lot worse,” she said. “I work for a company that has helped us out a lot, my co-workers have helped out a lot, even when I just need to vent to somebody."

    "I hope that once this pandemic’s over, we don’t go back to the way we were and instead we continue forward in being helpful to one another. It opens your eyes; you can’t take anything for granted," she added. "That’s what changed my mindset. Taking it one day at a time and thanking God I wake up every day and have a house.”

    Federal stimulus money has helped Gimbut, as well. She said she’s used it to pay bills she was behind on, to buy her son clothes and to save money so that “I’d have a little security in my account.”

    Gimbut recognizes that she’s better off than some others. Her time at TVCCA, and her motherhood, has informed her financial view of the pandemic: Little things matter, money adds up and having options for local aid is essential for families.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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