Longtime Branford Food Pantry volunteer Liam Cotter stood shoulder to shoulder with Branford High School basketball players Alex King (junior) and Dalton Erickson (sophomore) hollering ‘conveyor up!’ As his voice boomed, the conveyor belt lurched forward bringing up box after box of holiday meals ready to be delivered to more than 250 waiting families all over Branford yesterday morning.
“It’s pretty cool,” said King, a first-time volunteer. “We’re giving to the people who really need it.”
Erickson added that he and King helped out at a fundraiser for Mary R. Tisko Elementary School last weekend as well and volunteering is something they both enjoy doing. “It feels good because you are helping the community,” he said.
Waiting by the belt for the boxes of food were two seniors, Lauren Ramsey and Alisha Oliver. The two girls lugged turkeys on top of the food boxes and loaded the more than 30-pound meal packages into delivery cars. Never once did they complain – just smiles all around.
The process of feeding Branford’s needy families starts by collecting goods to fill the boxes in anticipation of Thanksgiving, said Cotter. Then, the boxes are pre-packed before delivery day. The boxes are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, pie filling, boxed stuffing and all the items perfect for fixing a holiday feast; the turkey is added to the meal package just before it gets loaded for delivery. The delivery of the more than 250 meals takes about four hours, added Cotter.
The assembly line starts in the basement of 40 Harrison Avenue, with students who load the boxes onto the conveyor belt before they make their trip up to Cotter and the waiting delivery workers.
But, this well-oiled machine with lots of volunteers and food to go around wasn’t always this way, said Food Pantry President Wendy Cowles.
“Three to four years ago we had to go out and buy chickens,” said Cowles because there weren’t enough donations to fill the needs of the town.
Since that year, Cowles said, the all-volunteer organization has not had that problem. “We are getting better publicity,” she said, “and it has made all the difference.”
This year a group effort between St. Stephen’s Ame Zion Church, St. Therese Church and Trinity Episcopal Church yielded 248 dinners – turkeys included – for the Pantry. The First Congregational Church brought in another 60 dinners with turkeys as well.
Many residents could be found over the weekend and into this week parading-in single turkeys to help Branford get fed this holiday season. The Food Pantry also provides about the same amount of dinners and turkeys – aprox. 260 – for Christmas, said Cowles.
The volunteers who have been giving their time to the pantry have also helped to keep the operation running, said Cowles. “Volunteers are staying and for whatever the reason is, I like that.”
For 10 years, students from BHS have also contributed to the operation said Cowles. “We love it and the students enjoy it,” she said. “It’s been a real eye-opener,” for the students she said. “Some of them don’t realize the need in the community,” she said, “but some of them are also our clients.”
Year-round the Pantry helps to feed about 154 families per month (462 people) and more than 247 families per year. Every month, more than 18,150 pounds of food is given out and over the year, nearly 218,000 pounds, including 4,470 dozen eggs are distributed.