WEST ORANGE, NJ — Since being forced to close facilities for in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year, West Orange Public Schools has placed even more emphasis on its food services and has partnered with the Holy Trinity Food Pantry to expand its offerings for students who typically receive meals through the schools.

And although the pantry provided 153 bags of food to school district families during spring break in March, the pantry has been working tirelessly since then to help those in need—including providing weekly meals to senior citizens and at-risk individuals throughout the Oranges in addition to assisting families within the local school district.

In fact, the pantry, which typically serves anywhere between 130 and 150 families each month, recently set a new record serving 191 families in a two-hour period, according to pantry director Cynthia Cumming.

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“We are just trying to help as many people as we can,” said Cumming, who also serves as communications director for West Orange Public Schools. “It's a tough time for a lot of people. We take it week by week, and so far we have been able to keep going.”

In addition to working with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which is the Holy Trinity Food Pantry’s primary partner and food supplier, Cumming also acknowledged other agencies that have been donating to the pantry over the last several weeks.

Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity (MEND), another partner agency, has also been providing food to the pantry, which has been able to use monetary donations to shop for additional needs as well.

Cumming specifically recognized organizations like the Orange/West Orange UNICO chapter, the West Orange Elks Lodge #1590, local Girl Scout troops, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Mt. Pleasant PTA, Nikhil Badlani Foundation, the Lefty Boland organization, the Life Christian Church, the Orange School district and others for contributing to the cause.

This also included members of the West Orange Police Department, led by Sgt. Dave Palmere, who have also stepped up to help with large food pickups as well as production and distribution.

“The bulk of our financial donations have come from individuals in the community, who have been dropping off food donations nonstop as well,” said Cumming. “We have gotten masks from West Orange residents Gina Velasquez and Charlotte Westcott, and from my friend Barbara Anderson.”

Since the pantry also regularly works with the West Orange Department of Senior Services to shop for and deliver food “to emergency cases, sick, homebound, etc.,” Cumming said The Mayor's Sunshine Fund recently donated to Holy Trinity Food Pantry to help cover purchases for senior members of the community during the pandemic.

“We have always said we have the best community here in West Orange,” said Cumming. “We are humbled with our community's generosity. It has helped us to stay open and keep providing families with food each week.”

Making up the core group of vlunteers at Holy Trinity Food Pantry are Cumming, her husband Doug, Chris Babinski, Karen Boettinger, Martha Curry, Ann Marie Cerciello, Molly and Vinnie Emiliani and Karen Jones. Many of these volunteers, who Cumming described as being “indispensable” during the health crisis, are representatives of United Presbyterian Church.

The volunteers at Holy Trinity Food Pantry, which is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon, have been especially busy over the last few months. 

“We are working almost every day to make sure we have what we need on the two days we are open,” said Cumming. “There's a lot of work behind the scenes to make this work.”

While items in the bags being donated to those in need typically include products such as cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly, beans, vegetables, tuna, canned fruit, shelf-stable milk, pasta, sauce, rice, soup and snacks, the items also change on a weekly basis depending on what is being donated to the pantry.

Last week, for instance, the pantry was able to provide a frozen chicken and some fresh produce to all recipients.

“This week we have eggs,” said Cumming. “It all depends on what we get from the food bank. Sometimes we have fruit and produce, sometimes eggs, sometimes bread, sometimes frozen meat.”

Cumming added that the pantry is always in need of donations and encouraged the community to get involved whenever possible.

This week, the pantry is specifically in need of macaroni and cheese, tuna, bread, fresh fruit, produce and any type of juice. Cumming mentioned that the food bank often requests juice from the food back, but the food bank has also seen a major shortage with this particular item.

Peanut butter, jelly, soup, dried beans, cereal/oatmeal, snacks, eggs, milk, rice, pasta/sauce and snacks are also among the items needed throughout the year at Holy Trinity.

CLICK HERE to visit the Holy Trinity Food Pantry on Facebook or contact Cumming at 201-341-9217 to contribute. 

The West Orange school district is also currently operating its own food pantry within the board of education building in order to offer daily meals to students in need.

According to Dr. J. Scott Cascone, Superintendent of West Orange Schools, the district has been able to distribute approximately 8,000 meals a week to families in need thanks to ongoing donations from community members and local organizations.