Updated: Jun 26, 2020
June 25, 2020
Diana Natti Theriault
While visiting the Hamden Free Food Distribution (Mobile Food Pantry) held Tuesday at Hamden Middle School, I had the pleasure of meeting with Hector Velazquez Jr.. Hector was suggested to us as an outstanding member of the Hamden community, and after meeting with him, we can absolutely see why.
When we arrived, Hector was bouncing around, shouting out instructions to the volunteers, full of charismatic energy. It was a hot day, and the cafeteria at the middle school was full of donated food from the CT Food Bank. Volunteers had been working for two days to unload food from trucks and sort it into bags and boxes, so that each family in need would have both fresh produce and non-perishable snacks. Despite being tired, Hector’s exuberant directions were enough to get the volunteers up and moving, all with smiles on their faces. With only an hour before the start of the event, the volunteers set to work bringing all of the sorted food outside to designated tables, where it would soon be loaded into the trunk of waiting cars.
With the help of Adam Sendroff (pictured left) who is the Hamden Community Development Manager, Hector has coordinated six of these mobile food pantries at the Hamden Middle School during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hector credits Adam for making the event possible, and knows that his knowledge and relationships with the Town of Hamden, CERT, the Hamden Police, and the Hamden Public Schools were essential to the food pantry's success.
In his role as Family Engagement Coordinator for Church Street School, Hector was originally asked to be on a committee studying food disparities in Hamden. The Hamden Food Security Task Force works to find ways to address food insecurities in Hamden, where the numbers of those impacted by hunger are one in eight adults, and as many as one in six children.
Pictured: Volunteers from CERT and Quinnipiac help to load boxes and bags of food.
Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. “Extensive research reveals food insecurity is a complex problem. Many people do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, challenges which increase a family’s risk of food insecurity. Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity.” hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/
The mobile food pantry, which would run monthly at Dunbar Hill School, was a partnership between the CT Food Bank, the Town of Hamden, and the Hamden Public Schools. It would give both fresh and non-perishable food, to roughly 150 families monthly.
As the COVID-19 pandemic entered Connecticut, people suddenly found themselves out of work, or with less access to food. Hector saw the need to expand the mobile food pantry, making the need for more space and more help necessary.
The Hamden Public Schools offered the Hamden Middle School as a new, expanded location, and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) was brought in to help maintain traffic, and the safety and flow of the event. Hector asked to give a special shout out to the Hamden Public Schools Custodians, who have worked behind the scenes to make sure the site was prepped before each event, and was cleaned after.
Pictured: Bob Freeman and Barbara Stark from Hamden CERT, and Hector with Adam Sendroff.
Volunteer Leslie Freeman spoke with me about Hector, and clearly had respect for his work and dedication. She said that what she saw most, was Hector’s ability to remain flexible, and work with many different people. With music playing, and bubbles blowing, the start of the event, which many had waited hours for in their car, was upbeat and positive. Hector, with the help of all of the volunteers, made the day not only possible, but a moment of joy in this difficult time.
Pictured: Members of the Hamden High School Band came out to play for the volunteers and participants.
Pictured: Members of CERT work to direct cars into organized lines, while volunteers load boxes of food into the open trunks of cars.
Thank you so much to Hector, for helping to make Hamden a wonderful place to live!
For more information about CERT, and how to get involved, click here.
To donate to help our neighbors, visit the CT Food Bank website.