By Wayne Simone

Waterbury resident Robert Vonaa is a recovery specialist at Rushford in Meriden. His job is to help residents who have mental health issues or addiction problems recover and return to society.

That’s his full-time gig.  Vonaa also helped start New Beginnings, a food pantry for the hungry in New Britain, more than twenty years ago. This was inspired by a brief bout he had with homelessness a few years earlier.  “I was there in the same shoes.,” Vonaa said. “I was lucky and made it out, but many of the people I see don’t have the where-with-all to break out of homelessness. Sometimes it’s the skills, sometimes it’s the hand that they were dealt, and other times it’s their desire or their lack of desire. 

Whether it is their fault or not is a debate that has raged for years.  The debate goes on and on and with a pandemic
sweeping across the world, there is no end in sight.  The fact remains many homeless people will always remain homeless.
They have no place to go and no money to eat. They are society’s most vulnerable, and one of its biggest problems. 
With the Coronavirus ravaging the state at an alarming rate the homeless have no place to hide from attack, and no protection. Their health and safety affects us all. The biggest problem is food insecurity amongst homeless people.  Now with COVID-19 robbing the economy of millions of jobs, food insecurity has spawned a new wave of hunger unimagined in America.

“Food is extremely scarce,” Vonaa said. “We haven’t seen it like this before. It will get worse as more and more people rely on our food banks. People we’ve never seen before are standing in lines for food. The lines are longer. Eventually the need will be too much.

Kathleen Kelly runs Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown. She has worked with the Middletown based St. Vincent Depaul Society for 17 years.  The demand at our food pantries has been incredible,” Kelly said. “Many of our volunteers are retired people who are afraid to go out. They should be afraid. Fortunately there have been many generous people that have stepped up and helped out.  People are really wonderful during times of crisis.”  Amazing Grace serves nearly 1500 families during the month. Shoppers used to be able to shop once every 30 days, now it’s every other week. As with all food pantries across the country the lines are long and filled with unfamiliar faces.  Many are proud, hard-working people, who are embarrassed at the sudden twist their life recently took.  Many residents rely on food pantries like Amazing Grace, Waterbury Baptist Ministries and Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries just to be able to put food on their family’s table. If the pantries can’t meet the need many people will go without food.  The kids, the grandparents, the vulnerable…that’s who will go without.

I think it’s a problem that has to be solved, says local business owner Tony Nardelli.  “I think it is going to be very difficult on some people, on some families, to continue to put food on the table. It’s sad. If we are able to help our neighbors in their time of need, we should.  Now is the time.”

Nardelli is co-owner of Nardelli’s Grinder Shop that has 15 Connecticut locations.  There are boxes to make donations of
perishable items in all Nardelli’s.  “You can just drop the items off,” Nardelli said. “No contact and we will get them to local food pantries.”  If there was ever a time to help the vulnerable, it is now. It’s borne out of necessity, not empathy. It’s common sense that our poor and homeless need to be protected just like everyone else during these trying times. The food pantries need to be supported, their shelves need to be filled. A lot more people need to volunteer and to donate. This time the consequences of not assisting our homeless population are dire, indeed.”
List of area food panties that the Observer confirmed were in operation during the pandemic…
• St. Vincent DePaul Mission of Waterbury Soup Kitchen
327 Baldwin Street, Waterbury, 203-757-0411
Items needed-
Soup Kitchen Manager: Paul Scampolino
Hours of Operation: Monday-Sunday, 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM A continental breakfast is served from 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Lunch is served from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM

•Waterbury Baptist Ministries Food Pantry
222 West Main Street, Waterbury, 203-754-5140

• Salvation Army- Waterbury Corps Community Center
74 Central Avenue, Waterbury, (203) 754-7056
Call 211 if you are in need of shelter
Food Pantry is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9:00-12:00.
Bread and pastry and donation drop off is closed. Donation pick up truck is not available.
Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries Soup Kitchen
770 East Main Street, Waterbury , 203-757-7734
Soup kitchen serves gourmet meals to anyone in need M-F, 11am-1pm. Bag lunches distributed at 1pm. Bag lunches are also distributed Sun: 7:30am-12noon Last Monday of the month for food pantry and the other three Mondays for emergency bags 9-10 AM.

• First Assembly of God Food Pantry
1245 Thomaston Avenue, Waterbury, 203-753-8023
Church food pantry offers nonperishable food to people in need who live in the Greater Waterbury area. Pantry is open at 1333 Thomaston Avenue, Bay 5 on Saturday (8:30) 9-11 AM; They are doing a drive-thru at this time where you get your goods and then drive out. They are accepting donations of food (including pastries, etc) and would never turn away donations. Most of their donations come from supermarkets and other food banks.