The eighth annual fund raising dinner and silent auction supporting the work of the Sparta Ecumenical Food pantry will be held on October 10th this year at the lake Mohawk Country Club. The food pantry relies solely on donations from individuals,local service organizations, and the proceeds from this annual event,to fund their services throughout the year.
There are currently over three thousand Sussex County families registered with the Ecumenical Food pantry. The benefits to these families are not always recognized but they are substantial..Local citizens and businesses generously support the Pantry but few can claim knowledge of exactly what it is, or what it does.
They are more popular now, but food pantries have been a fixture in Sparta Township since the early 70''s. They have evolved from simple church organizations, through an ecumenical association with Sparta churches, to the current ,independent, non-profit food pantry housed today at the First Presbyterian Church on main Street in Sparta.
I guess you could say it all started with Magaret Plevin. For years Margaret devoted her time, and labored countless hours at her church, to keep up with the needs of those who were experiencing difficulty with the costs of daily living. distribution schedules, inventories, client records, and fund raisers were all overseen by Margaret who, by and large, operated "under our radar" in her service to others.
About ten years ago the Ecumenical Food Council was created in Sparta. The First Presbyterian, United Methodists, Saint Mary's Episcopal, Our lady orf the Lake, Saint Katrei, Shephard of the Hills Lutheran, and the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community Church, were represented on the council. The churches all had variations of their own pantry so it made sense to consolidate their efforts and the Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry was born. During the ensuing years the operation of the Food pantry was guided and overseen by a committee of representatives, one from each of the participating churches.
In 2009 Suzanne Blecker assumed the directorship, a position she held for four years.. Utilizing her impressive skills and by applying up to date technology, Suzanne was instrumental in creating the modern pantry of today. The pantry now exists under a board of trustees as a 501C3 charity organization supported 1005 by volunteers and donations. No grants. No salaries.
In 2013 Val Macchio took over the directorship following Susanne and in 2015, the Ecumenical Council voted to grant the Food Pantry its full autonomy with the ability to function independently.
The need is enormous but the Pantry has proven equal to the challenge. Val, the current director, has brought with her two MBA's and energy gleaned from the pace of big city association.
"I was so used to a hectic atmosphere that when we moved to Sparta I needed to be kept busy," Val said. "I was working with my church when Father Pat asked me to be part of the Pantry" she said. A lot of energy is required. The Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry currently lists 3,000 families on their register and distributes roughly 800 bags of food every month to our neighbors. All this work is done by the twelve volunteers who keep the organization running on all cylinders.That's right, twelve volunteers with the energy to do the job."
The activity of the food pantry is not restricted to the distribution of monthly bags of food. Their programs are felt throughout the year. In addition to their normal food distribution, Christmas turkey dinners are distributed to families in the county. And what would a Christmas holiday be like without the games and toys delivered by the First Presbyterian Church to complement those turkey dinners?
Easter baskets are processed at Saint Kateri Parish. Kids receive 800 -1000 bags of favorite food lunches each summer to make up for lunches missed during vacation. Every August the Food Council collaborates with Connect for Community to insure that their kids receive a "back pack" for school filled with notebooks, pencils, crayons, and sundry supplies, for their "dear old golden rule days".
The Food pantry is supplied by Norwestcap, a government supply agency whose facility in based in Phillipsburg. New Jersey. The food bank is carefully monitored by that agency to insure that proper protocols are followed throughout the year.
Val Macchio said it best when she said, "Most families don't think about it, but many are just one event from needing help. We offer that help."
Peter, Paul and Mary, the folk rock group of fond memory, also recognized this when they sang, "There but for fortune, go you, or go I." And that's why the food pantry exists and why it deserves our support.