SPARTA, NJ – More than 20 volunteers quietly serve the Sparta community and beyond. The compassionate people who work at the Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry, located in the First Presbyterian Church, gathered last month for an organizational lunch meeting.
They discussed everything from the logistics of the food disbursement to ‘what if’ scenarios, helping to prepare the volunteers for questions and challenges they may face. Treating clients with dignity was a reoccurring theme.
They are preparing for an increased need as school ends for the summer. They typically serve 1200 children who would usually receive their meals at school. There is a closet in the lower level of the church dedicated to children friendly food including cereal, macaroni and cheese and juice. This food does not stay on the shelf for long. They even distribute toothpaste and toothbrushes when they have them.
The seven houses of worship that are part of the pantry are the Parish Communities of St Kateri Tekawitha and Our Lady of the Lake, St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Sparta United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church of Sparta, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community.
Last year in total, the pantry provided food to nearly 4,000 adults and 2,273 children representing 2,132 families who received 3,765 bags of food. This equated to 35 tons of food. The pantry currently serves 620 adults, 394 children, 332 families, distributing 935 bags of food each month.
There are some special times of year when the food pantry provides more than the usual peanut butter and jelly, pasta and canned goods. They provided Easter Baskets, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas dinners. Through special donations they were able to provide wrapping paper and even coats.
Occasionally the pantry will receive perishables such as apples, bagels or bread. These are handed out on a first come first serve basis until the supply runs out.
Some of the organizations who are regular partners with the pantry include Norwestcap, Stop and Shop, Shop Rite, many local farmers, Green Foundation, Weichert Realtors, Kiwanis. They also receive donations from individuals or single events such as the recent food march and a pre-school child who asked for donations instead of gifts.
The organization Connect for Community run by Suzanne Stigers collects coupons to purchase food that is used to subsidize the pantry’s stock.
“Though,” said director Donna Iozzino, “there is always a need for donations.”
The pantry is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. until noon. On Wednesday there are extended hours from 1 until 3 p.m. and every third Wednesday from 4 until 7 p.m.