HP Food Pantry needs nourishment in the form of volunteers

In a community such as Highland Park, where the median family income in 2010 was $103,316, people are more likely to worry about what their next meal will be, rather than where it will come from. Food security, the surety that there is food in the refrigerator, is generally not a problem.

Except when it is.

“For some people, it’s sort of a long-term economic status. They are part of the working poor, or maybe they retired or there is some sort of disability or illness,” said Alex Warner, a key volunteer for the Highland Park Food Pantry. “But then there also are people who have momentary economic downturns. All kinds of life circumstances lead them to need a little extra help.”

The Highland Park Community Food Pantry is located in the Senior/Youth Center, 220 S. Sixth Ave., where it is run entirely by volunteers. Founded in 2000, the food pantry relies on donations to provide food for more than 100 families who come to the pantry twice a month to pick up bags of nonperishable food.

“I would definitely say you see people from every walk of life, every economic class, every race, all genders, all religions, all ages,” said Dr. Warner of the food pantry’s clientele. “Certainly you have single people, you have couples, you have families with small children.”

The food pantry has been managed for the past eight years by area resident Beth Leech, who announced that she will step down this June. The responsibilities she had managed are being divided among other, current volunteers. The new coordinator position essentially would involve overseeing each of the other volunteers and making sure that the food pantry is running properly.

“This job is as big or as small as you want to make it. It will take a minimum of an hour of phone calls or emails with people each week,” said Dr. Leech, a professor at Rutgers,  in a statement. “Any new initiatives will obviously take more time. Scheduling is very flexible.”

Food distributed through the pantry comes from a number of sources. In addition to individual donations, supplies come from organizations like Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services and the New Jersey Food Council, as well as from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Typical fare covers the nutritional basics — pasta, rice, canned vegetables, tuna and bread — as well as seasonal donations. Although it normally does not carry items that require refrigeration, such as eggs or milk, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the food pantry gives away turkeys. And during the summer and fall months when the farmers market is open, vendors there often donate unsold produce to the food pantry at the end of the day.

The pantry is located at 220 S. Sixth Ave. in the Highland Park Senior/Youth Center. It is generally open 9 to10:45 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m. the second and fourth Thursdays of each month; check with the pantry for holiday scheduling. Identification and proof of residence or employment in Highland Park, such as a driver’s license, utility bill or pay stub, are required to use the pantry.

Individual food donations may be left in marked bins around Highland Park, including at Stop and Shop, Anna’s Health Foods, Saiff Drugs – all of which are located along Raritan Avenue; as well as at Borough Hall and the Senior/Youth Center. Larger donations can be arranged by contacting the food pantry at Highlandparkfoodpantry@gmail.com, 732-819-0052

Donations also may be made by check. Make checks payable to the Borough of Highland Park with “Food Pantry” indicated in the memo field. Mail donations to Highland Park Borough Hall, 221 S. Fifth Ave, Highland Park, NJ, 08904.

Other volunteer opportunities include: driving to transport food deliveries from New Brunswick the third Thursday of each month; arranging food on the shelves two Wednesday evenings a month; and distributing food on Thursdays and Saturdays twice a month.

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