'To let the community know the food bank is open': New Milford Social Services organizing walk for those in need

NEW MILFORD — Those driving or walking past the Big Y on the afternoon of Sept. 19 may see a long line of people walking, while carrying or pulling food. They will be doing this in an event to support those who are food insecure in town.

In recognition of September as Hunger Awareness Month, the event, called “Walk a Mile for a Meal,” is Sunday, Sept. 19 from 1-2 p.m.

Through the walk, every year, New Milford Social Services — which organizes the event — collects 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of food. The event draws at least 150 to 175 people annually.

Walk a Mile has been held for more than 15 years, and it always takes place during Hunger Awareness Month, according to Ivana Butera, director of New Milford Social Services. The event is co-sponsored by the Big Y World Class Market and hosted by the First Congregational Church.

Aside from individuals and families, high school athletic teams, church groups and Scouts have participated over the years.

The walk is “a wonderful kickoff” event for the fall, said Butera. “This is a very simple, easy food raising event.”

Individuals can purchase the food at the Big Y, at 1 Kent Road, place it in a wagon and walk it up to the First Congregational Church, at 36 Main St., “They can load it into our vans and then we bring it over to the food bank,” Butera said. The food bank is seeking non-perishable items to re-stock their shelves.

In 2020, the walk was held virtually, due to COVID-19.

“We asked groups to let us know, register, walk on their own, raise the funds if they want to, buy the groceries and put the food in a bin outside of the Big Y,” Butera said.

Those who are not able to make the walk this year can drop off groceries at a grocery cart that has been placed outside the Big Y, or bring it to the First Congregational Church. Additionally, Social Services accepts donations at its office, in the John Pettibone Community Center, 2 Pickett District Road.

New Milford Food Bank

The New Milford Food Bank is about 30 years old and is run by Social Services, with the help of volunteers. They’re open every Thursday and they serve 185 to 200 families a week. In a given month, they see up to 300 families, Butera said. “That can add up to 650 to 700 people in any given week.”

The food bank provides 80,000 meals in a given year.

“We have a steady flow of folks that need that in our community,” Butera said. “We are the resource to connect them to food. We are a strong resource in trying to fight food insecurity in our town.”

Food insecurity tends to increase as the weather gets colder, according to Butera.

“You tend to see an upswing as the winter months approach us in terms of usage of the food bank,” Butera said. She added one of the reasons for this is expenses can go up in the winter.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got to start dipping into your savings or stretching your tight budget to pay for heat,” Butera said. “You’re expending more fuel, school is now reopening — and then the holidays come up, which can add to the additional expenses. This is the launch of the year to say ‘Hey, there’s still folks in need.’”

The food bank is supported by local farms and backyard gardeners, and receives rescue food from other local organizations. It’s also supported by community donations — either monetary or through goods.

Twenty volunteers help at the food bank weekly to stock the shelves, pick up produce and bakery items, and help distribute the food.

“This is a way to come together as a community to do something to let the community know the food bank is open and accepts donations,” Butera said.

To register for the walk, send an email to IButera@newmilford.org or call 860-355-6079.

For more information about the food bank or Social Services, visit New Milford Social Services on Facebook or the Town of New Milford website.

sfox@milfordmirror.com