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UConn Waterbury expands campus food pantry as need grows

In the first hour of opening in January, the pantry ran out of product.

WATERBURY, Conn. — Just one month after opening up a food pantry on UConn's Waterbury campus, the demand grew larger than the space. Now, Husky Harvest is expanding, and offering a lifeline for many. 

"I work in the grocery store, so I see how everything is rising like crazy," said Renise Martin, a freshman at UConn Waterbury.

Martin said she normally goes to Husky Harvest at least once a week.

"This is like a tremendous help for me and my family, because, like this is something else that we don't have to worry about, we could focus on something else," Martin said. 

The pantry opened in January as a way to help students experiencing food insecurity. Turns out, at least 55% of all UConn students, are experiencing it.

"And of all the university's five campuses, Waterbury has its highest rate," said Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, Director of UConn's Waterbury campus.

That was evident as soon as the pantry's doors opened this year.

"Within the first hour, we sold out or got rid of most of our food, and then, we basically just thought, 'We have to expand,'" said Monica Lattimer, Assistant Director of Operations at UConn Waterbury. 

So, they did. This week, the Husky Harvest moved across the street to Suite 107. Now, they have more room and expanded hours. They hope that means more people can also be served. 

"There's about 400,000 people here in the state of Connecticut who are food insecure," said Jason Jakubowski, President and CEO of Connecticut Foodshare. "People, in general, are hurting, certainly college students are hurting."

Soon, those college students could be hurting even more. This, was after there was a major change in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, starting March 1. 

"They have approximately $90 a month less today than they had yesterday," Jakubowski said.

During the pandemic, the emergency program that boosted SNAP benefits was enacted by congress. That boost allowed all SNAP recipients to get the maximum monthly benefit, regardless of their income. That ended on February 28.

Now, the program is back to its original form, where people's benefits are dictated by their income.

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With the dollar not going as far as it used to, Jakubowski said, it's a double punch for a lot of people.

"At the same time, you now have people being able to spend less at the store on their SNAP cards, which means that there's going to be more of an impact on food banks," Jakubowski said.

Or, on food pantries, like Husky Harvest. And now that the community may need their help even more, they're ready to do what they can to meet the need.

"You're not alone. everybody has this food insecurity at this point. So, come in, grab what you want, grab more, and take what you need and hopefully, I can have people leave with a smile," Lattimer said.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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