The First Step to Housing Stability: Eat.

Open Doors Focuses on Food So Clients Can Pay Their Rent

Article by Caroline C. Barney

Photography by Courtesy of Open Doors

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

Title – Food Insecurity on the Rise

Subtitle – Open Doors tackles food insecurity as key barrier to housing stability

Open Doors is a housing and homeless services organization based in Norwalk that provides resources for individuals and families on the path to housing stability.

Core to their model, Open Doors recognizes that the best way to end homelessness is to stop it before it happens. The prevention programs assist area residents as they gain sustainable housing and find financial stability and success. 

At the most fundamental level, tackling food insecurity is the base on which all other services sit. 

In order for clients to find their path in life, Open Doors knows basic human needs must be taken care of first. The first step in building this foundation? Ensuring everyone has a healthy meal on their table.   

“We aren’t fixing anyone here,” says Open Door’s Executive Director Michele Conderino. “[Our clients] have strength, they just have a lot of barriers in the way and it’s our job to plow the road so they can walk that road alone.”

Barrier: FOOD.

The rising cost of food, compounded by Fairfield County’s cost of living being significantly higher than the state average and rising (Nation Low Income Housing Coalition), means that people in our surrounding towns are suffering. In many cases, families are having to decide between food or rent. 

“Making choices about food or rent in one of the wealthiest counties in the country is devastating. People are working so hard and they’re just surviving. We need to recognize that people aren’t lazy, they are working incredibly hard to keep up with the rising cost of living. These things are happening to them and then they carry the burden of blame for not being able to sustain themselves,” shared Michele. 

Open Doors steps in to help fill the gaps. Their kitchen is the only program in Norwalk that provides free hot meals every day to anyone in need. It also has a grocery pantry that is open five days a week. In addition, they have a holiday meal basket program in the fall, winter, and spring for low-income families in our neighborhoods.* 

Over the past few years since Covid, the number of households being served has grown exponentially and continues to rise. It is these food insecurity interventions, along with other wrap-around services, that bridge the gap between homelessness and housing. 

“We are just the hands of the larger community for our clients… it is the entire community that supports the work at Open Doors. Volunteers, food donations and monetary gifts make what we do possible. We all do this work together,” says Michele. 

When food insecurity is addressed, clients are able to take further steps to realize their personal purpose and power. To believe that they can get themselves out of poverty. 

A huge part of the work that is done at Open Doors is to inspire self-worth. To remind clients that they have value. To offer resources to recover, tools to make changes and confidence to stick to a plan that helps them navigate from needing basic physiological needs like food and shelter to owning success.

To get out of the cycle of poverty is to go to war and not everyone’s journey looks the same. The staff and volunteers at Open Doors leverage the range of programs available from homelessness prevention through to housing stability to help individuals and families piece together the services that work for them to help themselves. Success is watching clients own that path. 

“Every day I get to watch other people succeed – that is the greatest joy in my life,” Michele shares. 


*These food services are fueled 100% by donations. Much needed items at the food pantry include: fresh fruits and vegetables, canned tuna and chicken, peanut butter, jelly, spaghetti sauce, canned soups, canned vegetables, beans and fruit, fruit cups, oatmeal, rice, cereal, dried beans, juice, mac & cheese, snack bars, coffee, spices, pancake mix, syrup, all-purpose flour, and sugar. Low-sodium and sugar-free options are highly appreciated, as are manual can openers."

If you have the ability to donate, it’s important to know that regular sizes are better than family/economy size products because many homes have limited storage, and it can be difficult to maneuver public transportation with larger items.

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