This is the Rutherford Community Food Pantry
by Jennifer Ersalesi
On Facebook: RutherfordFoodPantry
Through the awesome efforts of volunteers in the community and the members of the Food Pantry Board, the Rutherford Community Food Pantry is able to open its doors to those who need assistance in our community. The Rutherford Community Food Pantry is a volunteer, non-profit organization. Their mission is to “keep their clients free from hunger and maintain each individual’s dignity by offering choices for personal needs as well.” Director of Social Services, Genevieve Kacmarcik, and Food Pantry Board President, Maureen Bigley, told TIR more about the Food Pantry.
TIR: In January 1998, a group of leaders came together and determined a need for a centralized place where those in need could go for basic necessities. Before the Borough Hall Food pantry location was determined, were there other food pantries available for Rutherford residents?
GK: From what I understand, several of the churches had their own private small pantries. One day they all got together and determined a need for consistency and continuum of care for the residents. They decided that they needed a centralized location where all the churches and organizations could donate instead of having many scattered throughout the town.
TIR: Not all Rutherford residents are aware of how important the Food Pantry is to many individuals and families in town. How many people does the Food Pantry currently serve? What are the age ranges of individuals who utilize the Food Pantry?
GK: The Pantry currently serves 122 Families (231 total individuals). The age range of the recipients are from 8 months old to 84 years old.
TIR: Are the Social Services Department and Food Pantry connected?
GK: As the Social Service Director, I am an Advisor to the Rutherford Community Food Pantry Board. I meet with potential recipients of the pantry, get information from them and check their annual income, current income and family size to determine if they are eligible for the pantry benefits.
TIR: Approximately, how many volunteers assist at the Food Pantry during the week?
GK: We have 37 registered volunteers to help on a monthly basis. We have many students that volunteer sporadically during the week so it is difficult to give an exact number. I have started to keep a log of volunteer hours per month. The average number of volunteer hours per month are 122 hours.
MB: We also have 10 Board members who donate their time and efforts. Genevieve is our Advisor.
TIR: Charlie Conti, age 10, has been donating to the Food Pantry for the last two years on his birthday. Charlie told us, “I have too many toys and it feels good to help other people. I learned a lot from visiting the Food Pantry for a tour too. There is much more than just canned food there, like diapers, paper towels, etc. Food is not all people need to survive.” If other members of the community want to assist at the Food Pantry, what should they do?
GK: Many groups and individuals hold food drives and some organizations collect money for the Pantry. Individuals who would like to volunteer can choose from many opportunities, such as restocking the shelves, checking expiration dates, reorganizing and rotating the items.
TIR: There are many volunteers who are also trained to assist while food pantry recipients are picking up items from the Food Pantry. How does that work?
GK: A volunteer also can be trained to work with the recipients of the pantry. We have pantry hours on Monday and Thursday 2-4 pm and Wednesday 5-7 pm. Those volunteers have to be trained by Board Staff members to work with visitors of the pantry. Those volunteers are permanent volunteers and work once a month. For example, the same two volunteers work a permanent spot every month, the First Monday of the month they work from 2-4pm. If one of the volunteers is on vacation or sick or for any reason and he/she cannot fulfill their obligation, then they need to find a substitute that is trained to work in the pantry for them. We need people who are willing to substitute so that no one is left alone in the pantry.
TIR: Every month, the Food Pantry puts out a list of what is needed to restock the shelves. What types of items seem to need to be restocked often?
GK: The most needed items are shelvable milk, coffee, tea, snacks for kids for lunches, cooking oil, and mayonnaise. This month the Food Pantry is also in need of personal hygiene items (shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, etc.), laundry and dish detergent, and food items, such as cereal (no Cheerios), oatmeal, crackers, jarred pasta sauce, and cooking oil.
TIR: There are many community groups in town that help stock the food pantry. What are some ways that they assist?
GK: Many of groups refer to the needs list, which is extremely helpful since those items are the most needed items for that specific month. Some of the local churches or organizations have a drop off box at their location. Once a week a member from the organization drops off the food or personal needs items from the previous week.
MB: Many individuals drop off items monthly or weekly, as well.
TIR: Does the Food Pantry have to follow nutritional guidelines?
MB: No we do not have to follow any nutritional guidelines. We only can accept non-perishable items. We used to have a volunteer who was a nutritionist who helped us become very mindful of getting the most nutritional items for the recipients. We do have a section in the pantry for low salt and no sugar added foods. We also have a section for Gluten free products.
TIR: Are there special events that the Food Pantry has during the year?
GK: One event that the food pantry participates in is Record Food Drive which is normally held in September. During the year there are different events in town where we set up tables with information about the Rutherford Community Food Pantry.
MB: The Board has a Volunteer Dinner in May, because without the volunteers we could not operate. The dinner is our way of thanking them for all of their hard work throughout the year.
TIR: How can people donate to the food pantry?
GK: Donations of food or personal hygiene items may be dropped off at the Pantry during the hours of operation. There are also shelves outside the pantry doors where items can be dropped off Monday through Friday while Borough Hall is open. For large donations, please call the pantry to arrange a drop off time. We also gratefully accept tax-deductible monetary donations payable to Rutherford Community Pantry, Inc. These donations can be sent to 176 Park Avenue, Rutherford, NJ 07070.