MILLBURN, NJ — In a time when more residents than ever before may soon need a helping hand, a new food pantry in town will look to provide some of that needed help.
The pantry, which is jointly run by the township and a group of volunteers under the administration of Millburn's Human Services Coordinator Ana Millan is an idea that has formally been in the works since at least late 2019.
Annette Romano, one of the township volunteers helping to get the new pantry running spoke with TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills about the effort, and said that the idea came in part from a prior pantry that had been in operation in Millburn.
“Years ago, when the red cross chapter existed in Millburn, I worked there," Romano said. "And we had a food pantry in the basement, and we had a nice number of families that utilized the food pantry. The Red Cross closed and so did the pantry. But the need was always there."
That was backed up by Millan, who said she sees residents in Millburn who need that extra boost to help stretch their food budget, and who fall into many different categories.
“Residents who are financially struggling often contact me with various needs," Millan said. "Anywhere from families with small children, seniors, individuals who are disabled. They contact me from time to time and often times they’re people who are just outside of the income qualifications for the SNAP program, which is basically the food stamp program.”
After the Red Cross closed their local chapter, Romano put in calls to local houses of worship, to see if they would be willing to house the facilities necessary for it. Those calls came up fruitless, and for a while, the idea of a new food pantry in town was solidly on the back burner.
Then last year, Romano, Millan and other township officials were at a senior citizen meeting, when Millan noted there were residents in Millburn looking for a pantry. Millan also works in Livingston, and had been overseeing the pantry there, using donations to help cover the needs in Millburn as well from time to time.
Following additional conversations with Business Administrator Alex McDonald and Committeewoman Tara Prupis, the decision was made to finalize a plan to move forward.
"Alex got back to me, probably around Thanksgiving," Romano said. "He found a space, it was cleaned out, we were going to get some shelves, and we could move forward. Fast-forward to January, February. The space was all ready, shelves were up, so we started getting some food in there.
"And then coronavirus kicked into high gear, and I saw some other local food banks, food pantries looking for food, [and] I started putting the ask out there, just to let people know in town that all these people that are asking for food donations, it’s leaving the township. Whatever donations that go through me or go through Tara [and] Town Hall are going to stay here, and they are going to be for our residents."
Romano credited McDonald, Prupis and Millan, among other township officials for playing key roles in helping to bring the pantry together.
The concept of food insecurity is not a minor thing, nor is it only unique to Millburn Township. Food insecurity is a major issue, affecting a not-insignificant portion of the population. As Romano noted, the annual Thanksgiving food drive that has gone on in Millburn Schools for decades has seen most of the food collected going back into town.
And residents have often gone for help in town, whether though organizations like Down the Block or the office of the Human Services Coordinator. As Millan noted, while the issue is not as prevalent as it is in other parts of the states, some residents in Millburn Township can also be classified as food insecure.
"I would say it's probably not as predominant as other townships, but there's still a need there," Millan said.
The pantry is simply meant to be another building block in the care of citizens in town. As the food pantry is now operational, residents can reach Millan, the Human Services Coordinator by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by office phone at (973) 921-2836. All requests for help are confidential and are handled by her.
Additionally, residents wishing to donate food can drop their donations off at Romano's house at 15 Cypress St. in Millburm or at Green Nectar Market, located at 358 Millburn Ave., from 10:00 a.m. through 7:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 10:00 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
"We've already started connecting residents to both food from the pantry and ShopRite gift card donations that people have generously been giving," Millan said.
At the end of her interview, Romano said that she was looking for the food pantry to be seen as something with longevity that helps the residents of the township.
"I want everyone just to continue to remember that the food pantry is here," Romano said. "It’s going to be here for a long time, and we want to continue to service our neighbors in their time of need and in the future at any time."