With Thanksgiving over, and Christmas and other holidays coming quickly, the city’s premiere food assistance agency is gearing up for what it considers higher-than-expected demand. Rose Majestic of the West Haven Emergency Assistance Taskforce (WHEAT) said the Thanksgiving holiday saw a marked increase this year, and fully expects the demand to continue.
COVID-19 has been the major culprit in the increased demand, with many families of so-called “non-essential services” reeling from state-mandated closures.
Majestic said the Thanksgiving holiday saw a large increase in demand for food.
“There was an increase of about 70 households this year compared to last, which amounted to our highest total,” she said. “We’re unsure of how this will affect the rest of the holiday season since some households concentrate on finding toys and clothes and may not come in for food.”
With the recent uptick in cases for the Coronavirus in Connecticut, Majestic said the agency fully expects the demand to continue well past the holiday season.
“I believe the COVID-19 numbers will still be with us in 2021, at least for the first quarter. January-March are some of our busiest months with people being hit with heating bills and have even less money to spend on food,” she said.
Those looking for toys or clothing for their children will have to depend on other groups. Once part of the WHEAT umbrella, the agency gave up those tasks in favor of concentrating on food distribution. Majestic said groups are doing toy and clothing drives and encouraged families to look for help there.
“We don’t do toy or clothing drives. I believe the West Haven High School still takes care of distributing toys,” she said..
During the COVID period, WHEAT has seen an increase of almost a third over and above what was seen in previous early. The demographics, according to Majestic are varied.
“We’ve seen an average of a 30% increase compared to pre COVID numbers. We see an increase in younger families and individuals: people out of work, who’ve had their hours cut to part time; parents who are staying home with kids and who aren’t at work,” she said. “We also see grandparents who are taking care of their grandchildren during the day while the parents are working. The grandparents need extra food to feed the kids. And, we certainly see our population of seniors and veterans.”
Despite the hardships all families seem to be facing of one type or another, the agency head sees that people are trying to help their neighbors. She said food drives have been a big help.
“Food drives have been overwhelming this fall considering the hard times people are experiencing. There really are too many to name without leaving someone else out,” Majestic said. “Many of the businesses still open managed to do food drives as well as some of the civic organizations and to my surprise a few of the schools. I didn’t expect the schools to be in any position to do food drives because of the on and off closing, but some of them did.”
Looking behind the holiday season and into 2021, Majestic is hopeful the new year will bring an end to the pandemic.
“None of us has any idea what will happen next year. Hopefully there will be a vaccine that people feel safe enough taking. How will this affect us? Many households that were coming to WHEAT early in 2020 haven’t been back since the pandemic started. Our hope is that they will feel safe enough to come back, she said.
The chance of a vaccine or end of the virus brings hope that old friends, who have stayed away will return to fill the need the agency has for volunteers, according to Majestic.
“I hope that we’ll turn the corner so that our regular volunteers who couldn’t help out over these last months will feel safe enough to return. We haven’t been taking any new volunteers because we’re trying to keep a tiny bubble of volunteers for safety reasons,” she said finally..