Michael David Bailey still thinks about box No. 1,001 — the box of food they couldn’t give out, because it didn’t exist — at a food drive he worked on earlier this month.
“It was the saddest moment of 2020, for me, when I saw a little girl, with her mom, and when we said she didn’t have any more boxes, I saw the little girl’s face, like she might not eat tonight. It did something to me,’' said Bailey, co-pastor at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield.
So it was easy for Bailey and the church to open its facilities Saturday to Shafi Ahmed, a Wallingford resident who organized the drive-through food pantry after learning about another food drive in West Haven that he saw on TV.
Ahmed, a Pakistani immigrant who works in Windsor, raised nearly $18,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. He also contacted Pakistan Tahreek-E-Insaf, the ruling political party in Pakistan for help, as well as friends in the Muslim and Sikh communities and others he knows from years of playing cricket. They assembled 500 boxes of food to hand out Saturday with volunteers at The First Cathedral.
“When I saw people were really desperate for food during Thanksgiving time, I thought, OK, we have until Christmas to do something,” Ahmed said. “If I can do it at least a week before Christmas, they won’t have to worry about food. They can spend money on kids’ toys or something rather than worry about food.
“It was a tough job, but [my friends] stood by me, and they said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
The boxes were filled with the basics — pasta, rice, cereal, etc. — and were loaded into trunks of cars on Saturday. Ahmed’s biggest hurdle was that stores wouldn’t allow him to buy food in bulk because of COVID-19 restrictions, so it took multiple trips from multiple people to gather supplies.
Ahmed said the group had around 20 volunteers working the past two weeks to raise money and purchase food. The boxes were assembled at the Jafaria mosque in Middlefield and shipped up to Bloomfield on Saturday morning. He said the biggest expense was renting and loading the trucks.
“I think that the way that this community will survive is through collaborative efforts like this,” said Lakisha Hyatt, executive director of ministry at the Rehoboth Church of God, who drove through and collected boxes for the elderly. “Community means the bringing together of resources so that the entire entity can grow, develop and be sustained through this pandemic.”
Ahmed and his friends spent the past few weeks buying food and assembling the boxes. He got his kids involved, too, to show them what charity means. Ahmed made it clear that anyone in need could drive through, regardless of if they were from Bloomfield, the surrounding towns, or not.
In addition to food boxes, the group assembled 40 bags of clothes and supplies for people who are homeless, and donated them to the church.
“When we talk about community, you’re not talking about political affiliation, you’re not talking about race, you’re not talking about denomination,” said Bloomfield Mayor Suzette DeBeatham-Brown. “You’re talking about how we can impact our community ... you cannot attack an enemy by yourself. The enemy this time is food insecurity. You have to galvanize all your partners and work together as one community to address the needs of the community.’'
“We’ve been seeing [food insecurity] the last few months. I know [Bailey] and myself understand the need this community has.”
A study done by New Haven-based nonprofit DataHaven in September showed that food insecurity ranged from 9% among white adults to 22% and 27%, respectively, among Black and Latino adults during the pandemic.
In addition to Saturday’s drive, Bailey said he’s been a part of events that have given out a total of 11,000 boxes of food.
“It’s a sad sight to see, but it’s a beautiful sight as well, to see people collaborate” Bailey said.
Shawn McFarland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.