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Norwalk Food Pantry Gets Moving Help From Friends

NORWALK, Conn. --  After 30 years in the NEON building in South Norwalk, Christian Community Action is moving to its own offices. The food pantry and social service agency is moving to a bigger facility one block away at 76 S. Main St. because Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, Inc . needed the space for its own programs.

“I was determined to keep it in South Norwalk,” CCA director Christi Pope said Friday, sitting in an office filled with boxes, with movers coming in and out. “Thirty percent of our clients come on foot.”

Pope has know since January that the agency would have to relocate, but the move has become complicated because the new facility is under construction and won’t be ready for another two to three weeks.

So Pope is doing what many of us do during a big move: She’s turning to her friends.  Until the new space is ready, CCA will distribute food at the Open Door Shelter on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. “When a group is in transition, of course we would jump in and help them out,” says shelter director Bill Okwuosa. “Christi and I serve the same population. Agencies should team up and work to help those in need.”

CCA gives out a week’s work of groceries to needy families at any time during the month. Pope says the pantry feeds 25 to 40 families a day. While food distribution is a major focus, the agency also collects and donates furniture, mattresses, prom dresses, winter coats and Christmas gifts for children. It also runs ESL and SAT classes. Pope estimates that with an annual budget of $250,000 the agency distributes $2.5 million worth of goods and services. “We are small but have a big impact,” she says.

The First Congregational Church on the Green is storing all of food from CCA’s pantry since there isn’t enough space at Open Door. Food will be brought into and out of the shelter on a daily basis.  The actual move is being coordinated by AIC--Alternative in the Community --a NEON program that requires people awaiting trial or on probation to serve community service hours instead of jail time.  The new facility is much bigger than the 986-square-foot space at NEON. It will have a large warehouse for food and furniture, offices, a reception area and a classroom. “This will affect the kinds of programming we can do and the amount of donations we can take in,” says Pope. The renovation  of the building has been largely underwritten by the New Canaan Community Foundation. General Electric and Pepperidge Farm employees will provide manpower for the renovation.

CCA will have to increase its budget since its new rent will be three times what it was at NEON.  “We’ve been heavily subsidized all these years,” says Pope. To economize, CCA is sharing the facility with Community Plates, a new non-profit that collects surplus food from restaurants and other food businesses and distributes it to the needy, mainly through social service agencies. “We couldn’t have afforded the space without this collaboration with them,” says Pope.

“It will put a strain on our finances,” says Pope, who plans to ramp up fundraising through grants and donations. But she isn’t worried. “It’s a leap of faith and the time is right.”

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