HAWTHORNE, NJ - This past Saturday proved to be yet another incredibly busy day for Martha’s Pantry at St. Clement’s Church in Hawthorne. What originally opened in November 2019 with just a small group of volunteers and clients has grown to a large operation, fueled primarily by the pandemic. In the beginning, Martha’s Pantry served just the former Manchester towns of Hawthorne, North Haledon, Haledon, and Prospect Park, and had strict requirements that clients prove residency and need. Now, as with most things in life during COVID-19, Martha’s Pantry has needed to modify and adapt to a changing environment.

Linda Heerema heads the group of volunteers from St. Clement’s parish whose goal is to help as many families and individuals as they can. For her, managing the pantry has become a part-time job itself. “When we opened our doors, we started with 3 families, and now we serve roughly 40-50 families or 150-175 people every time we’re open.”

“It is hard work getting everything together, packing the bags, making sure all the families get what they need, but I enjoy it and it’s very rewarding,” one volunteer said.

John Lees, another volunteer at the pantry, remarked “Well, I enjoy the fact that we are reaching out to people and filling a need that is very much needed at this point with the pandemic, especially.”

 “I’m happy with the way things are running,” Heerema said. “My volunteers are terrific, we have a good group. Now we have the boy scouts helping us out and earning their badge requirements, and they’re extremely helpful to us. Things are moving along really well.”

On the third Saturday of every month, Martha's Pantry is joined by members of the Passaic County SPCA who donate cat and dog food for those with pets.

Additionally, Martha’s Pantry began accepting volunteers from local scout troops who may be looking to fill volunteer and community service badge requirements. Interested scouts and their parents are encouraged to reach out to Martha’s Pantry via their Facebook page to coordinate volunteer hours. At this time, only one volunteer is permitted per day.

Of course there are other ways to help. Lees mentioned some ideas, “...certainly by donating, and by spreading the word. We serve a lot of people but there’s plenty more people who don’t know about us. And we have the ability to serve more. If you can help by donating that’s terrific, but you can just let people know that we’re here.”

Louise Haeberer, another long-time volunteer, offered a different idea. “I usually donated flowers in the church, and now we can’t really do that, we can’t be in the church. I would have had them for my family members and friends, and each time it’s $25-50, so now I just make a check out to the pantry for that in their memory. The people who I am trying to honor and remember would be in favor of helping in this way. You have to think of the people who are not on this earth anymore because of this whole thing, you can hardly even gather that up in your mind, the massive amount of loss. You could say ‘Oh, I just won’t spend that money’ but it should go toward helping someone else.”

Her sentiments were echoed earlier in the day by another local resident who donated several bags in memory of her recently deceased brother. “He would be happy that this is what is happening.”

Martha’s Pantry has also fostered a collaborative effort with the neighboring First Reformed Church. Parishioners there collect items to donate to the pantry. “It’s amazing the support we get,” Heerema said.

But just as quickly as it comes, it is given out. To help replenish their stock, Martha’s Pantry is planning a Lenten Food Collection for the end of March, with a goal of collecting 40 bags for the 40 days of Lent. They will be open to accept donations on March 27 between 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Donations can also be picked up by volunteers throughout the week leading up to the food drive.

“We’re happy to accept donations,” Heerema said.  “Whether it be monetary, gift cards, food, paper goods, personal care items, we even have Venmo now. Really anything that is shelf-stable, non-perishable, that doesn’t need to be frozen or refrigerated”. Currently, there is an urgent need for peanut butter, jelly, cooking oil, feminine products, pasta sauce, shelf-stable milk, bar soaps, laundry detergent, and dish soap.  

Martha’s Pantry will next be open on Saturday, March 20, from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Martha's Pantry is located at 271 Lafayette Avenue in Hawthorne. They are currently open for drive-through service, and clients are asked to remain in their cars and wear a mask while being served. For more information contact the church office at 973-427-8118 or their Facebook page.