WEST ORANGE, NJ - This article begins with an important disclaimer: in addition to being the Editor of the West Orange Alternative Press, I am also the Food Pantry Administrator at the Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry located at 315 Main Street. The food pantry has been in operation since 2002, and each year has seen an increase in the number of people in need of food assistance.
I tell you this because this article, by its very nature, cannot be 100% objective, because it is a Love Letter to the community of West Orange.
September was "Hunger Awareness Month," and I wrote that over 12% of all New Jersey residents experience hunger and food insecurity. Currently 1 in 5 New Jersey children are food insecure. The 2010 census for West Orange reports that there are 11,874 children between the ages of 0-19. That means 20% of those children, or 2,375 - could be food insecure in West Orange alone.
There has been an increase in the number of families who are unemployed or underemployed, as well as the disabled and senior citizens. Over 150 families per month, around 500 people, receive food from the pantry. This food is comprised of State and Federal food, donations, and food purchased with donated monies.
Which brings us to November, and Thanksgiving. Reductions in State and Federal allocations, less food available for purchase at the Community Food Bank of Hillside, and the loss of our founding matriarch, Alice Hoffman, put us in a tough position. We spent thousands of dollars on food to keep the shelves stocked with enough food to get by in October and November. But we needed the help of the West Orange community to provide turkeys and other needed items.
Our shout out for turkeys went out online and on the township electronic billboard early in November. In yet another incredible display of community spirit and compassion, the billboard alone yielded at least 40 turkeys and we began receiving calls from organizations and individuals that wanted to help.
A West Orange resident that worked in Cranford dropped off extra turkeys from a food drive and made a cash donation; the Elks brought 21 turkeys and food; and the West Orange Department of Public Works dropped off the 'leftovers' from the Mayor's Sunshine Fund Thanksgiving Drive (which delivered 160 Thanksgiving baskets to West Orange Families). The Life Christian church donated turkeys and 30 boxes of Thanksgiving sides. The West Orange PBA gave turkeys, clothes and food.
Residents came in to volunteer; others, like Barry Geltzeiler, collected 30 turkeys on his own, along with food. Others came in with turkeys and donations. The National Council of Jewish Women, long-time supporters, came in two trips with turkeys and over 60 bags of non-perishables. West Orange Rotary ran a food drive at Shoprite on November 24, and Mountaintop League on November 25. On November 27, the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Thanksgiving Luncheon donated the proceeds of its 50/50 to the pantry. Many other organizations and businesses ran small drives.
The food pantry was swamped this month, with nearly 250 families seeking food. At today's end, every family received a turkey or a roaster chicken, all their Thanksgiving sides, and their monthly allotment of food. We have a good amount of needed items going into December, another huge month at the pantry.
Why is this a love letter, you ask? This is a township and a community that has heart, spirit, and compassion. From our individuals and families, to our township employees, our school district, our businesses and organizations, as unlikely as it seems, as diverse as we are on every imaginable level, West Orange still comes together when it counts. If you read local online blogs and forums, a negative, harsh and critical portrait of the township is often painted, with hearsay and innuendo by anonymous (and sometimes named) posters. For those that are involved in the West Orange community, however, a very documentable track record of the positive impact evidenced in others' lives, is apparent.
The WOHS Boys Soccer Team that won a state championship this week, all the while keeping their ill teammate in their hearts, stopped by the next day to drop of donations at the MTL food drive. A man working for minimum wage at local laundromat donated a turkey and some food from their drive; the neighbor with the extra pumpkin pie dropped it off ; the thank yous and tears from grateful food pantry members; the food pantry volunteers that labor for others; the big and the small, the high and the lowly...this is West Orange, this is the fabric of the West Orange community that this township is built on, and it's a place I am proud to call home. I love West Orange, and I love the West Orange community.
We tried to chronicle the past few weeks in photos, and hope you enjoy some of what we were able to capture. Happy Thanksgiving, West Orange.
To find out more about the Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry, email Cynthia Cumming, the Food Pantry Administrator, at Heidlercumming@aol.com, and "Like" their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HolyTrinityWestOrangeFoodPantry.