WHEAT, the West Haven Emergency Assistance Taskforce, will mark its 35-year anniversary this year.
Since 1975, WHEAT, a predominantly volunteer-run organization, has given out 864,000 meals, feeding more than 32,000 West Haven residents.
5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 19
at the Italian American Club,
85 Chase Lane, West Haven.
Tickets are $12 for adults,
$5 for children 12 and under
and free for children under 3.
The event will feature a pasta dinner, cash bar and anniversary cake.
WHEAT provides a variety of social services for people in need, including a food pantry, a sign-up center for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, and the Project MotherCare medical clinic operated by the Hospital of Saint Raphael. WHEAT also serves the Spanish-speaking community with the help of a Spanish interpreter.
“We’re the central charity for the city of West Haven. We’re not just a food pantry and clinic. We’re the central referral center for other agencies inside and outside West Haven for clothing, furniture and rent assistance,” said Rose Majestic, WHEAT’s Executive Director. “We’re the 211 of West Haven.”
The WHEAT food pantry has been a member of Connecticut Food Bank since the Food Bank was incorporated in 1982 as the state’s first regional food bank.
Currently, WHEAT serves about 300 people per month out of its modest site at 674 Washington Ave., West Haven.
“When I came here in May 2005, our yearly distribution of unduplicated households was 1,850 residents. This year it’s approaching over 3,000 residents,” Majestic said. The number had been growing steadily before the recession, but the economic downturn just made it worse.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of seniors who come in because they don’t want to let their children know that they have fallen on hard times. During the summer, we’ve seen a spike in families whose kids usually get school breakfast and lunch,” Majestic said.
WHEAT has also partnered with the VA Hospital in the city to help returning and disabled veterans, and the Head Start Program at the West Haven Community House.
Two years ago, WHEAT gave up a third of its building so a permanent home for the Project MotherCare medical clinic could be built. For 10 years, the clinic was initially operated out of a mobile van and WHEAT allowed the van to park in its lot and provide care to children and mothers during the week.
When the van could no longer function, Majestic said there was the possibility the mobile clinic would leave West Haven. “It’s such a valuable service. We didn’t want to lose them and we didn’t want them to leave so we agreed to give up a third of our building and build a permanent clinic so they will always have a home in West Haven,” Majestic said.
According to Luray Bouffard, Connecticut Food Bank’s Programs Coordinator, WHEAT is a wonderful example of community collaboration.
“WHEAT is a great resource for the West Haven community. They work together with other agencies in town to ensure all residents get the assistance they need. Offering space to the Saint Raphael’s clinic is just another example of how they keep the needs of the community in mind,” Bouffard said.
Majestic said many social service agencies choose not to celebrate their anniversaries, but rather commemorate the milestone. She, on the other hand, believes such milestones should be celebrated because of what they represent as a service to the community.
“I choose to celebrate our 35th anniversary because despite needing more food and the lack of funds, we have not closed our doors. We have managed to get the food, scrape by with the money and find more volunteers so we can give equitable food to everybody who walks through the door,” Majestic said. “WHEAT has built 35 years of integrity and great respect and that’s worth celebrating.”
Posted by Gladys Alcedo, Communications Coordinator of Connecticut Food Bank