Hartford food pantry is bigger and better

With a crowd and news media watching, a ceremonial ribbon was cut Thursday morning to signal the reopening of a bigger, better El Centro Food Pantry in Hartford. The grand reopening comes after months of renovations funded by a $132,000 grant from Connecticut Foodshare.

The need for a larger space had become evident in the past year as more and more people came to the pantry for assistance. The 1,874 clients served already in 2024 sets a pace that would, by the end of the year, more than double the 2,025 served in 2023.

“In previous years, we had enough food to distribute for the entire month,” said Nilda Morales-Rivera, Director of the Family Center and Hispanic Senior Center at the Institute for the Hispanic Family. “This year, we had to make adjustments because we were running out of food after the third week.”

Those adjustments included finding another resource for food — the Midwest Food Bank, a nonprofit with a warehouse in Manchester that gives provisions to organizations like Catholic Charities. A decision was made to also renovate the food pantry and instead of just making the room larger, Catholic Charities worked with Connecticut Foodshare to create a space that also offered visitors a more dignified experience.

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Hartford Courant photographs

Instead of being handed a bag of food at the door, visitors now enter the pantry through a new door to the outside and fill a shopping basket with items they want and will use, which eliminates the potential waste created after people are given items they won’t eat.

Volunteers at the food pantry help customers with their selections.

“This is a model pantry,” said Luis Rodriguez-Porter, who oversees Connecticut Foodshare’s partner sites in Hartford as its Network Relations Representative. “This is one that I will be utilizing as more partners are engaging with me trying to open a space. I will be inviting them to this one so they can see what it looks like, feel it and ask operational questions.”

The food pantry is at 45 Wadsworth St. in the Institute for the Hispanic Family, a facility operated by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford that also includes a senior center, Early Childhood programs, a Behavioral Health clinic, and a pharmacy. Below is the schedule for food distribution beginning next week:

Tuesdays: 10 a.m. until noon and 1-2:30 p.m.
Wednesdays starting June 5: 3-6 p.m.
Thursdays: 10 a.m. until noon and 1-2:30 p.m.

The food distributed from the pantry is purchased at a low cost from Connecticut Foodshare, a Wallingford-based nonprofit that works with partners statewide, or donated by Midwest Food Bank. Hartford Healthcare provides financial support that is used to purchase food.

Everyone is eligible to receive items from the food pantry after filling out a simple form. There are no requirements.