By Lynn Adamo
When Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit opened doors to its food pantry, organizers recognized there was a need, but had little idea how much traffic to expect.
“It was kind of a guessing game, the first one,” said the Rev. Jerry A. Racioppi, Holy Spirit’s rector, “but it was much larger than we could’ve imagined.”
Eighteen individuals visited April 23, the pantry’s inaugural date, with the same number, though different people, shopping Memorial Day weekend.
“We thought we would’ve gotten more that day (May 28), but have a feeling the holiday had something to do with it,” Racioppi concluded.
Organizers are ready to welcome shoppers from Verona and the surrounding area again from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sat., June 25, and encourage residents to continue contributions of non-perishable foods throughout the summer, when donations typically lag.
The pantry is realization of a three-year church dream, envisioned after parishioners learned of growing needs through a United Way study called ALICE, or Asset-Limited, Income- Constrained, Employed. ALICE represents the growing number of working individuals and families who struggle to afford housing, food, child care, health care and transportation, and Holy Spirit members wanted to create positive change for their neighbors. Racioppi credits congregant Mary Garland with setting things in motion through a letter to the editor at the start of the year, in which she shared her own family’s story.
“The traction we got from that really made the difference,” he said.
Confidentiality is key to the program’s success, Racioppi said, and shoppers, as participants are called, are asked for just two pieces of information- their ZIP code, and how they heard about the pantry. Once provided, they then can shop for much-needed items like non-perishable foods and pricier supplies like laundry detergent and toiletries.
When needed, Holy Spirit’s organizers seek guidance from leaders at St. Agnes’ Episcopal Church in Little Falls, where a food pantry has operated twice monthly since 2012.
“We mirror our operation off of them,” Racioppi observed. “They have a few years’ experience, and they’ve been tremendously helpful.”
St. Agnes’ also promotes Holy Spirit’s pantry, which operates on an off week from St. Agnes’, so participants have access to needed items throughout the month. Holy Spirit decided on the fourth Saturday, dovetailing with St. Agnes’ first and third Saturday schedule.
“I sort of arbitrarily picked the second Saturday, but one of our parishioners suggested considering the fourth Saturday, since end of the month is when people start really struggling to stretch paychecks,” Racioppi said.
Organizers expect numbers of participants to swell as word of availability spreads through word of mouth, publicity, township publications and letters to residents.
“The Verona Board of Education sent a letter, and it was great to get that support,” Racioppi said.
Food is available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of each month. If needs are pressing before a scheduled shopping date, residents can contact the church office at email@example.com or leave a voicemail at 973-239-2850 to make arrangements. The pantry is on the church’s lower level at 36 Gould Street.
Racioppi underscored the continual need for non-perishable food items, toiletries and occasionally for volunteers to stock shelves and staff pick up days.
Two items the pantry doesn’t need: “Everyone thinks of pasta and soup, but we’re well stocked with them,” he added. “Items that are really popular and go quickly are laundry detergent, which can be a little pricey, toiletries, paper towels, Saran and aluminum foil.”
Other unexpired non-perishable items can be dropped in the 24-hour bin outside the church’s parking lot door. Needed items need include: canned fruit and individual fruit cups, pasta sauce, juice and juice boxes, snack packs for kids, chocolate milk in kid-size boxes, tea in small boxes (24 or 48 counts), coffee, condiments, cooking oil, peanut butter and jelly, packaged milk (like Parmalat), canned cat and dog food, laundry detergent, hand soap, shampoo, toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, soap, shaving cream; household cleaners, bladder control pads, tampons/feminine napkins, Kosher salt and sea salt, aluminum foil, Ziploc baggies, plastic wrap/Saran, flour, sugar and rice specifically two-pound bags.
Financial gifts are also needed to purchase low-inventory items and are tax-deductible.
In addition, volunteers are needed in a variety of roles including: set up at 8 a.m. each fourth Saturday; staffing the pantry at 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; greeting shoppers when they arrive 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; clean up, 1 p.m. each fourth Saturday; publicity and fund-raising; organizing food donations
Holy Spirit members look forward to growing partnerships with other organizations, such as the Community FoodBank of NJ, but that’s somewhere down the road.
“We want to get through the fall and then figure what’s next,” Racioppi added. “Then we can look ahead to Food Pantry 2.0.”
To learn how to help, visit www.holyspiritverona.org/food-pantry or call 973-239-2850.