The New Canaan Food Pantry is gearing up for the holiday season, its busiest time of year.

Located in one of the ancillary buildings of St. Mark's Church at 111 Oenoke Ridge, the pantry staff was sorting and laying out holiday food Monday for Thanksgiving distribution on Tuesday.

Maggie Downs-Angus, head of the food pantry, which is run in concert with the town's Human Services Department, said there are 238 New Canaan households that have applied for and been accepted to receive food from the pantry.

"It is a lot. Five years ago, we were probably around 50 or 60," she said.

"Part of it is probably just people being aware of being able to come, but definitely the town's been impacted by the economy. ... Some of the people are living in assisted housing. Some people I don't know how they manage, frankly. You can be sure that no one would go to a food pantry unless they really had to."

"For many people, the first few times they come, it's a heart-wrenching experienced, they're so embarrassed and torn up about whatever situation it is they're dealing with," she said.

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The town has been incredibly generous this year, she said, as it is every year in its food donations. Food Emporium and Stop & Shop have donated food, and everyone who came Tuesday received a gift card for a free turkey from one of the two stores.

The pantry has non-perishable items like cranberry sauce, boxes of stuffing and mashed potatoes in addition to non-holiday staples.

"We set it up like it's a little store, and people can go and pick what they want," Downs-Angus said. "Through the generosity of the town, people and organizations come by and drop off checks. One man, who wants to remain anonymous even to us, drops off gift cards to Stop & Shop. (St. Aloysius Church) will be dropping off over 600 bags of groceries."

The pantry started as a youth group project at the church 10 years ago. As it grew, and a real need was demonstrated in town, it became too much for a youth group to handle.

Downs-Angus, whose children were part of that group, took over direction of the pantry.

Residents must apply with the Human Services Department, which determines eligibility and gives them a document which has a schedule for the pantry's hours and shows their eligibility.

Downs-Angus said there are eight to 10 people who regularly volunteer at the pantry, and several others who volunteer occasionally. Some of the volunteers are people who previously used the food pantry in a time of need.

"There's definitely an incredible need in this town, which surprises people, and it can happen to any of us. That's what you learn. Quite a few of them never expected to have to go to a food pantry to get food. We also get people who relied on the food pantry, who, once they were back on their feet, turned around and volunteered and gave back."

For information, call Downs-Angus at 203-509-6774 or Human Services Director Carol McDonald at 203-594-3079 or email her at; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews