In fewer than 4 weeks since the coronavirus struck, calls to Westport’s Department of Human Services quadrupled.
Residents worry about countless things. But the most common fear is food insecurity.
“Between our established clients whom we’ve worked with for years, and new callers who find themselves unable to make ends meet, anxiety and panic is setting in for many,” says director Elaine Daignault.
“A lot of them already face tough decisions between putting food on the table, and paying household expenses.” Already, it is estimated, more than 4% of Westporters face food insecurity.
That’s around 1,200 people. Many are seniors and children.
And, Daignault warns, as social isolation continues and unemployment rises, those challenge will be felt by people who never in the past faced financial difficulties.
A single mom with 3 kids has kept only one part-time job. But her rent is due. Without enough savings to stock up at the grocery store, she must stop in 3 times a week. That increases her risk of exposure, causing further despair.
One Westporter relies on the gig economy; his wife is disabled. Suddenly, his income does not cover the cost of food, rent and medications.
A senior citizen has worked part-time as a grocery clerk to supplement his Social Security income. Fearful of exposure to infection, he quit working. He can afford food — but he’s stopped paying his cell phone and electric bills.
An elderly, ailing couple have depended on the Senior Center for their daily hot, nutritious meal. The rest of the time, the wife prepares simple canned soups and frozen dinners.
Daignault is proud of her small staff. They offer connections, support and resources to residents in need. They make personal phone calls, and are working harder now than ever.
They’re providing grocery gift cards to Westporters, and collaborating with the school district to help families access the free and reduced lunch curbside pickup program.
Human Services has a rainy day fund. But there is a limit to their financial resources.
“We can’t wait for state and federal programs to kick in,” Daignault says. “People are hungry now.”
Dan Levinson shares her concerns. A longtime Westporter who years ago helped organize the original Green Village Initiative, he gets things done.
Quickly, he and other concerned residents created a Food Fund. The money they raise will be administered by Westport’s Department of Human Services.
The goal is ambitious: $50,000. But generous contributions jump started it nicely.
Daignault welcomes the support. She calls the Food Fund “a great example of how we as a community can express compassion, and use our skills and creativity to benefit others. It also shows how we are all in this together.”
Senior Center director Sue Pfister adds, “My heart broke when my colleagues in Human Services began to worry about not having resources needed to handle the calls they were getting about folks needing basic food and grocery money.
“I knew if the word got out the community would rise to the occasion, and see to it that not one human being went hungry in Westport. Dan Levinson loved the mission, and ran with the concept. 72 hours later, we were halfway to our goal!”
Click here to donate. For more information — including how to benefit from food funds — call 203-341-1050.