Some days the shelves are spotty, other days they are filled with goods.
The carousel that is the Washington Township Food Pantry has grown in popularity in recent years, but not for the reasons one would hope.
Operated in concert by the Interfaith Community Outreach Washington Township Area (ICOWTA), the food pantry is housed in the Long Valley Presbyterian Church. It currently supports some 70 families in the township – an all-time high, according to Community Outreach Deacon and volunteer Dana LaGueux.
Of those 70 families registered to receive goods from the pantry, there are more than 70 children among them, LaGueux said.
An understandable hike in registered families came after the economic downturn in 2008, LaGueux said, and the number has been steady since then, bringing the total to where it is currently.
“There are definitely more people in need now,” LaGueux said. “But the community has been incredible, and we’re so thankful for their efforts.”
Just last week a Honeywell alert to families of Washington Township School District students was sent out to inform parents of the severely low level of goods available at the pantry. The community responded with floods of food and goods on Wednesday, Sept. 18, filling the pantry’s shelves as well as a small overflow area in the church.
The summer months drain the pantry, LaGueux said, as families are in higher need of goods.
Those families are able to fill two bags per weekly visit and up to eight bags per month, LaGueux said.
The pantry has been serving residents since 1985 and began with supporting approximately 10 families in the area. Before then, the effort was based on handing out “holiday baskets” to those in need for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The pantry has evolved – within its own limits, however – to offering back to school supplies and aiding families during one-time emergencies.
“In the case of a catastrophe or natural disaster, job loss or illness,” LaGueux said. “we’re able to help families with a one-time emergency assistance program.”
While the annual ICOWTA wreath fundraiser supports the emergency effort, the pantry has seen its (un)fair share of donations in the past few years as a hurricane, nor’easter and “super storm” has derailed many residents’ normal needs.
More Help On The Way
The pantry is entering a fruitful season, however, as National Make a Difference Day approaches.
A school bus will be set up in front of the church for the annual Stuff The Bus event on Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., where the pantry’s goal is to have an entire school bus filled with donated goods. The idea was first started by Janet Dickinson at Long Valley Middle School and was then turned over to the pantry itself with the entire Washington Township School District co-sponsoring the annual event.
Also in October, from the first to the 14th of the month, the Washington Township Library will hold its “food for fines” program, where residents can donate goods at the library in lieu of paying late fees. The two-week long program is a major source of donations for the pantry, LaGueux said.
“[The community] is really amazing,” she said. “There are many times where we don’t have the space to house all the donations. It’s a good problem to have.”
The pantry will always accept donations regardless of space, as the goods leave the building nearly as quickly as they enter.
Donations can be dropped off at the Bartley Road church Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. More information on the pantry can be found at Long Valley Presbyterian Church’s website.