(WTNH) – Since March 2020, COVID-19 flipped food pantries on their heads. Food donations halted and organizations were forced to raise money and buy millions of meals.

New distribution sites popped up in urban areas, but what’s next for a key organization combating hunger in Connecticut?

News 8’s Samaia Hernandez sheds some light as part of a series highlighting the issue of food insecurity during Hunger Action Month.

The pandemic has been a game-changer for food banks across the country.

“There are 169 towns in Connecticut. We are serving somebody in all 169 towns,” said Jason Jakubowski, President & CEO of Connecticut Foodshare.

Connecticut Foodshare is the new name and new umbrella operations for two previous entities at war with hunger in one of the wealthiest states in the union. COVID-19 forced them to get creative.

“Client choice, people being able to pick their own food. Those went out the window instantaneously because of the pandemic. You couldn’t have multiple people touching different products,” Jakubowski said.

The answer was a safe, socially distant outdoors drive-up emergency food distribution. News 8 was there in the beginning when hundreds of cars lined up, demonstrating how great the need is.

It’s hard to envision what 7 million pounds of food look like, but that’s what the site has given away. In the end, 7.8 million meals were given out over 54 weeks.

Rentschler Field went back to the Huskies in the spring. Before it did, a survey revealed 73 percent of clients had never used a food pantry before. Now, weekly lines continue at smaller spots around the state like the old Cinema Showcase lot in East Hartford.

“Due to no fault of their own, the rug was pulled out from under them and now they’re faced with this difficult choice. Do I pay for my mortgage, do I pay for my rent, do I pay for electricity, medication, or do I pay for food? And so often, we see it every single day. Food is the one thing people say, ‘oh I can go without that,’ and the truth is they can’t and that’s why we’re here,” Jakubowski said.

“Households with kids are about twice as likely to experience food insecurity as households without kids and households of color. Respondents of color were two and a half times more likely as white households,” said Katie Martin, executive director of the Institute for Hunger Research and Solutions.

Through the Institute for Hunger Research and Solutions, advocates are expanding on the traditional notion of a food pantry. They’re working to connect people with resources that could help combat the root causes of hunger and remove the stigma around needing help, especially for those facing hunger for the first time.