Photo: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media
SHELTON — While it’s been a family tradition for the past 34 years, Bruce Sofferman said he knows the Valley needs him more than ever this year.
Wednesday, as he has done for decades, the Shelton dentist will don his Pilgrim clothes and friend Brendan Carey of Carey and Guarrera Real Estate will be dressed as a turkey.
Together they’ll stand in the Smile Dental Center parking lot, 1000 Bridgeport Ave., accepting donations of money, canned goods or frozen turkeys that will be handed over to the Valley Food Bank.
They’ll be out there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I want this to be our best year ever,” said Sofferman, who started the tradition with his wife, Deborah, and their infant daughter, Sophia, now 33, at their original practice in Derby. “I’d like to have enough food for 750 meal baskets.”
That’s about 250 more than normal.
But 2020 has not been a normal year. The COVID-19 pandemic that brought illness, shutdowns and layoffs made certain of that.
“Donations are down and needs are up because of the pandemic,” said Susan Agamy, the executive director of the Spooner House and its Valley Food Bank which will be distributing the meals Sofferman collects. “I’m glad they’re doing it again this year.”
Things will be different this year. For the first time Sofferman’s wife and daughter won’t be participating because they are away. Taking their place will be Chaz from WPLR’s Chaz and A.J. show.
Donors are asked to stay in their cars, pack the food in a bag or a box and place it in their trunk for Sofferman to retrieve.
And this, unlike previous years, may be the Valley’s only pre-Thanksgiving food collection to benefit Spooner House and Valley Food Bank.
“It’s the biggest one we have confirmed,” Agamy said.
Last week, the Seymour Police Department canceled a planned food collection out of health concerns to donors and its officers because of rising COVID-19 rates. All the Valley municipalities are red listed by the state because their rates of infection are more than 15 per 100,000 people and rising.
“Some of the churches that used to ask parishioners for donations of turkeys are requesting gift cards this year,” Agamy said.
Sofferman will take those also.
“We’ll use them to buy frozen turkeys,” he said. “During this pandemic, people are no longer just living paycheck to paycheck. Times have gotten worse. We want them to know people care.”
In addition to frozen turkeys, Agamy suggests people donate canned fruits, vegetables and soups, stuffing, cake, brownie and cornbread mixes, powered potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, tea and coffee. She also said there is a need for pancake mixes and cereals.
“We’d like to put together a box that can feed eight to 10 people,” she said.
Local residents seeking food help must apply with the Valley Food Bank for a basket. Applications are based on need and those accepted will be called to pick up the box at the Todd Road facility.
“We’re starting to see the need for food grow as the federal supplement to unemployment compensations ends and schools convert to remote learning,” Agamy said.
She said many parents depended on the students to receive lunch and breakfast in school. While schools that have gone to remote learning have arranged meal delivery routes, some parents aren’t available at the scheduled times. Agamy said she fears that the demands might grow even higher after the holidays when the eviction moratorium ends while the COVID-19 rates continue to rise and more jobs are lost.
“Thanksgiving is usually our biggest delivery,” Agamy said.
The Valley Food Bank also arranges Christmas meal boxes.
And if asked, Sofferman said he’s ready to volunteer for a Christmas food donation.
“For years, I was Santa at TEAM’s Toy Drive,” he said. “I’ll just get that costume out.”