Jefferson Volunteers Quietly Strive to Fill Necessity Gaps for Families in Need

Editor’s note: This story was published exclusively in The Jefferson Chronicle DIGEST magazine prior to being made available online. To receive the DIGEST magazine when it is released digitally, subscribe free.

Try to picture it: Thanksgiving dinner, Sunday brunch, summer cookouts, ice cream after the big game. Locally and across cultures, food serves as a focal point for family, community, culture, and celebration. It fills our biological need while also filling our desire for security, camaraderie, and sharing.

Community – Neighbors, businesses, companies, and volunteers come together to make this dream a reality. (Photo: Carene Kratzel)

Many households in Jefferson live in a comfortable relative abundance. At a casual glance, our neighbors and friends seem to be on the same footing as ourselves – sometimes up and sometimes down, but mostly fine. The unseen reality is that a number of food insecure families and individuals live right in our community. While this fact escapes the notice of many (even the most engaged and active among us), it has not gone unaddressed.

Milton United Methodist Church, for example, runs the New Hope Food Pantry and Thrift Shop, which draw the attention of residents from all sectors of our community. The unflagging efforts of a few dedicated individuals create and maintain a forum where those with extra can share with those who need a little more. This is done so quietly, and smoothly, and humbly, that few likely realize just how many groups and individuals are involved.

Carol Robbins (a former teacher in the Jefferson school system), her husband, Everett, and a few others – Jim and Adele Wildermouth, Dotty Leonard, Barbara Horacek – help to guide operations at the food pantry and thrift shop. They coordinate contributions from individuals, local businesses, and even some major corporations. Acme has begun donating its nearly expired foods. The Feisty Pepper brings local fresh produce. Individuals contribute canned goods, dry goods, cookies, crackers, pasta, sauces, soup, veggies, and more. Proceeds from monetary gifts and thrift shop sales purchase toiletries, milk, peanut butter, jelly, fruits, meats, and even pet supplies. As Robbins says, “we wouldn’t want any family to have to choose between having the food they need and keeping the pet they love.”

Plenty – Twice each month, the pantry opens their doors to all comers. (Photo: Carene Kratzel)

Before our students return to school, the pantry buys bags, pens, pencils, and books to send them off well prepared for success on every level. When the holidays come around, families go home with entire meals: a full turkey dinner at Thanksgiving and a turkey or a ham for Christmas, complete with all the trimmings – and pie, of course. Easter baskets bring smiles in the springtime.

The food and supplies are gathered (sometimes purchased), sorted, inspected, and distributed by a small army of volunteers. High school students with special considerations come out to do some of the shopping and arranging of food, serving their community while meeting educational requirements for life skills learning. Teens, scouts, and church members give their time and energy – more hands are always welcome! Local business owners and entrepreneurs make cash donations without recognition, and one community member even set up a memorial trust (which is due to run out soon).

When the food pantry began in 1999, it served 10-12 families in the township. These days, more than 100 households frequent the food pantry when the doors open twice each month. Volunteers warmly welcome families, individuals, seniors … those in chronic need and those simply passing through a rough patch. Robbins offers a truly grateful smile when she remembers those who came to the pantry in need and eventually returned in service once they were back on their feet. “No one in our community should have to feel alone in their need,” she says.

Dignity – Staples are available, but so are a variety of foods to fill out the pantry. (Photo: Carene Kratzel)

Many have issues of pride or fear, but this is all about coming together. We are more than people on the same street, shopping in the same stores. We are neighbors. The township of Jefferson marches on with the beat of time. The community of Jefferson moves to a different beat – the hearts of those in need and the hearts of those happy to serve. Some are leading the way, but they need the rest of us to find ways to do our part. Robbins sums it up in good plain English (leave it to a teacher): “This is what human nature is all about: helping each other out.”

Food Pantries Available to Jefferson Residents

New Hope Food Pantry, 316 Dover-Milton Road, Oak Ridge (Carol Robbins, Robbinsrunt@aol.com, 973-697-3194)

Our Lady Star of the Sea Food Pantry, 237 Espanong Road, Lake Hopatcong (Patricia Connolly, 973-663-0211, olsos@optonline.net)

Hurdtown United Methodist Church, 823 State Route 15 South, Lake Hopatcong (973-663-1216, hurdtownumc@verizon.net)

St. Joseph Cares Food Pantry, 454 Germantown Road, West Milford (973-697-6100)

Crossroads Community Food Pantry, 104 Paradise Road, Oak Ridge (Holy Faith Lutheran Church, 973-697-6060, holyfaith@verizon.net)

Interfaith Food Pantry and Resource Center for eligible Morris County residents (973-538-8049 x210, interfaithfoodpantry@mcifp.org)

For additional information on these local food pantries, click here.

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After writing for years, Jim has forayed into feature journalism. Born and raised in Cozy Lake, working with The Chronicle is like a coming home for him; actually, it is a literal coming home as well. For years, James lived in far-flung corners of the globe teaching, writing, sharing, and learning. “You never set foot in the same river twice.” He can be reached at jim.dougherty@thejeffersonchronicle.com.