In normal times, the Cornwall food pantry tends to swing to a pretty relaxed beat. Most of the people who used it tended to come by the Day Room in the basement of the United Church of Christ on Bolton Hill Road on Monday evenings or Thursday mornings, where a couple of volunteers handed out food and supplies donated at regular intervals by generous community members, with additional food purchased at the IGA in Kent. For the handful of friends who needed things delivered to their homes, a volunteer delivery person or two was more than enough.

These are not normal times, so we adapt. As the town’s social service director for the last year-and-a-half, I’m involved in, and amazed by, our small town’s ability to manage big change. Since the coronavirus slammed doors shut last month, our usual caseload has nearly quadrupled. Instead of 125 people needing assistance each month, we will serve nearly 500 in the first month of the Covid-19 era. Instead of needing about $2,000 worth of food and supplies, we’re on track to spend $50,000 just for the first 10 weeks of the emergency. Instead of the three volunteers who usually handle the chores, we’re up to nearly 12 helping with the food pantry, and more than a dozen others available to help with other needs. What was once a task we could wrap up in a couple of days is now pretty much a full-time job.

Here’s how some of the key days of our new week fly by:

Friday In mid-afternoon, a volunteer opens a shared Google sheet used by about 30 Cornwall households to enter their food requests. Request lists are compiled and printed, and orders are placed at the Cornwall Market, Davis IGA in Kent and Sysco near Hartford for items needed in bulk.

Sunday morning A volunteer heads to Big Y in Great Barrington in the morning to buy requested items that for one reason or another did not qualify for a bulk order – things like diapers, foods needed for certain diets and other particular requirements.

Sunday afternoon This is crunch time at the parish house. Volunteers put on gloves and masks and gather the piles of boxes shipped from Amazon and by generous donors, along with bags of pastas, cereals and other non-perishables that have been dropped off. Tables are wiped down and request lists are spread around the room. The volunteers gather items from the center of the room, arranging them in bags and boxes for pickup or delivery during the week to each of the 30 or so families who requested food and supplies.

Monday The weekly order from the Cornwall Market is picked up at 1:30 p.m., and volunteers again gather to fill bags, this time with milk, eggs, yogurt, meat and produce that is stored in the refrigerator of the parish house. At 2, volunteers arrive after picking up the weekly order from Davis IGA. One volunteer reads off which items are still needed to complete a family’s request, and others gather the needed items. Boxes of fruits and vegetables, chicken and beef cover the floor, along with crates of milk and boxes of bread and other staples. As orders are completed, the boxes and bags are labeled with names and addresses, and sorted in groups based on who will deliver the order. More volunteers arrive at 3:30 to load the bags and boxes and deliver them.

Tuesday An email goes out to all Cornwall families with access to the food pantry, asking for them to use the Google form (also created by a volunteer) to complete requests for food and supplies for the following week.

Every day Volunteers pick up prescriptions and shop and deliver groceries to residents who can afford to buy their own groceries but should not be out in the stores. There’s a lot of need. We are committed to ensuring that those who need to stay home due to a compromised immune system or needing to quarantine are able to, so volunteers are standing ready to shop and deliver groceries and medications.

That’s a lot of change for a small organization. And there’s going to be more. As more people lose jobs, more households will need support. Many families that had two working parents now have only one because somebody has to stay home with children who’d otherwise be in school. Unemployment benefits are weeks away from arriving. We’re fortunate to have volunteers working tirelessly to collect and deliver so many orders, and for donors who have contributed money or supplies. Thanks, too, to the Cornwall Association for raising awareness and donations through its weekly Trivia Night, and to the Cornwall Foundation for a grant to support purchasing extra food during these tough times. For others who want to help, here’s what we need:

  • Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the Cornwall Food & Fuel Fund, Box 97, Cornwall, CT 06753, or by Paypal to
  • Especially household paper goods, snacks for kids, canned food, pasta, pasta sauce and cereals. Donations can be dropped at the back door of the UCC Church, 8 Bolton Hill Road, Cornwall. Or order something for delivery at
  • To volunteer, contact the Selectmen’s Office – 860-672-4959
  • Do you need assistance? Call or email Heather Dinneen at 860-671-9315,

Heather Dinneen