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The front shelves at the Norfolk Food Pantry display a variety of nonperishable food items next to a list of fresh foods contained in the pantry’s refrigerator. Photo by Emily Edelman

Norfolk’s food pantry at Battell Chapel reaches far and wide

NORFOLK — Well-known for housing five stained-glass windows designed by none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Battell Chapel in Norfolk is also home to the Norfolk Food Pantry.

Volunteer Director Lynn Deasy said though the pantry has been in existence for decades, “it’s really taken shape in the past 15 years.”

A grant from the Draper Foundation Fund received about a year and a half ago allowed the pantry to purchase a new refrigerator, freezer and shelving over the summer. The Battell Chapel also features a commercial kitchen in which volunteers prepare meals to be handed out.

The pantry does not collect identifying information from its customers — “We don’t turn anyone away,” said Deasy — but many travel from Winsted and Torrington, and also over the nearby Massachusetts border to visit the pantry.

“I think they like that they can choose what to take,” said Deasy, referring to the layout of the Norfolk pantry’s offerings on open shelving rather than the pre-packed distribution in boxes or bags utilized by many pantries.

Donations come in mostly via local businesses and individuals, and range from seasonal produce from local farms and fresh eggs raised by town residents to nonperishable food and personal care items purchased from grocery stores. The pantry regularly stocks items for those adhering to gluten-free, low-sugar, and low-salt diets. Foods for special diets are most needed by the pantry, as are canned meats and soups.

Deasy said from July 2020 through June 2021, the pantry served an average of 33 people per five-week period, who were feeding 97 family members. From July 2021 through September 2022, however, an average of 56 people per five-week period visited the pantry to feed 180 family members (that last number is an average, as well: Deasy said there were weeks when the pantry fed up to 240 people).

Though located at the Norfolk United Church of Christ, the food pantry is one of the many programs run by Norfolk NET, a grassroots organization founded in 2017 with the purpose of being “a safety net of Norfolk resources.”

Norfolk NET connects “people who have the resources with people who need the resources,” said volunteer Kelly Hughes. Primarily a source for those in financial need, Norfolk NET also maintains a gifting board at the Norfolk Hub, a community center. People list services and items they have to offer; and a “Happy to Chat” table, also at the Hub, at which people can sit if they are interested in friendly conversation with passers-by.

There are a number of other resources in town aimed at easing the current burden of living. The room adjacent to the food pantry in the Battell Chapel holds the Clothes Closet, which operates during the same hours as the pantry and offers a large variety of previously worn clothing items, shoes and accessories for adults and children. All items are free and seasonally appropriate. Contributions of perishable items are accepted at the pantry itself during its hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

The United Church of Christ will host the benefit dance event “Foot Stompin’ for the Food Pantry” on Saturday, Nov. 12, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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