SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ – The coronavirus shutdown of schools and businesses has created pressures on the county food pantries. In Sparta the Ecumenical Food Pantry serves not only the residents in Sparta but throughout the county as well.
Food Pantry Director, Valerie Machio said for their 30-year history the Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry has relied on donations and volunteers. This is highlighted recently by the Sparta High School students Bhavika Dawar and Jamie Rubin who have taken up the cause, establishing a GoFundMe page, purchasing food with the donations.
“This kind of grassroots efforts have kept us going,” Machio said. “It’s great to see the younger people acknowledging the need and helping out.”
Acknowledging need is a longstanding issue.
“People should not be afraid to come here,”Machio said. Volunteers are masked and gloved and they maintain a 12-foot distance between volunteer and patron. People who have lost their job and have never had to go to the food pantry should understand “there is no stigma.” She said the only requirement in need; they do not check identification and do not require proof of need.
“When you get back on your feet you can give a donation,” Machio said.
The food pantry is accepting donations of "shelf friendly" food and funds and time. People come to pick up the food at First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday and Friday. Additionally, volunteer drivers bring food to people who cannot or should not go out.
“We have a number of moms who drop and go, always wearing masks and gloves,”Machio said. “Drivers are always needed. People are always dropping off the [volunteer driver] list for a number of reasons.”
Volunteers make deliveries on Monday and Tuesday to agencies, apartment buildings, residences throughout the county. Case workers for a number of organizations contact the food pantry to arrange for food to be delivered including:
- Veterans’ Administration,
- Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice,
- Atlantic Health,
- Community of Hope,
- Advance housing and transitional housing.
The organization also works closely with organizations throughout the counties. Machio said they coordinate with Diana Morrison at Pathways to Propriety, including offering curbside delivery. They also work with Rita Oroho at the Sussex County Food Pantry.
Machio said they are one of 50 organizations that make up the Sussex County Hunger Coalition. The 50 agencies work together, coordinating efforts to make sure the excess food in the county is used effectively.
The Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry always seeks to serve the needs of all of their clients. They assembled and distributed 250 Easter baskets.
”We’re friendly here,” Machio said. "We're here to help you."
The Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry is located at 32 Main Street in the First Presbyterian Church. They can be reached at 862-266-0563.
Food Pantries throughout the county have had to modify their operations; changing hours, pick-up protocols, donation drop offs.
On Saturday the Sussex County Office of Emergency Management also released a statement about the need for non-medical volunteers to assist at food pantries and for food delivery.