Six years ago, on April 23, 2016, the Holy Spirit Verona Food Pantry, located at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, opened its doors for the first time. After years of planning that included a major kitchen and storage area renovation, the small but mighty congregation on Gould Street collected non-perishable items to distribute to people who required food assistance. On that day, 18 households were able to “shop” for groceries in the Church’s lower level.
The Pantry opened with an emphasis on confidentiality of its shoppers. Volunteers ask people only how they heard about the pantry and what town they reside in. “There is no shame in asking for assistance,” says parishioner Mary Garland, who had the vision of a food pantry in Verona. “The need exists even in a town like Verona, and we wanted to be the hands and heart of Jesus to those in need,” says Garland. Early in the planning stages for the pantry, we learned that SNAP (formerly called food stamps) does not cover toiletries, paper products and household products. “Unlike many other pantries, we stock these items routinely because everyone needs them and they are expensive. We try to always provide each family with a roll of paper towels and a laundry detergent. We also stock pet food,” says Father Jerry Racioppi, the church’s rector.
From April 2016 until the pandemic began in March 2002, volunteers gathered every fourth Saturday of the month – with just a few exceptions — to set out tables with groceries, toiletries, and cleaning supplies for “shoppers” to select. Yes, the Food Pantry calls their clients “shoppers” to avoid a clinical feel. “We prefer it when households in need can select their own items and take what they truly need. That’s why we use the term ‘shopper’ for those we provide with assistance. It is what they do when they visit us on the 4th Saturday,” says Father Jerry who has been Rector of this congregation since May 2015.
When the pandemic forced the pantry to cease welcoming shoppers inside the building, Holy Spirit offered home deliveries only to local shoppers. “But as the health crisis continued and donations were still streaming in, we knew we needed to find a way to reach those in need,” explains Catherine Tamasik, pantry coordinator and parish administrator. “After being closed to shoppers for two months, in May 2020, we began serving shoppers via a drive-thru where each family received pre-packed bags of pantry items. Despite the more intense logistical effort this model required, it worked well for nearly two years.”
Now, on April 23, the Verona-based food pantry will reopen to in-person shopping for the first time in two years. Masks will be required for shoppers and volunteers and only a limited number of shoppers will be allowed in the building at a time. “We are pleased to be able to give our shoppers the ability to select the items they need rather than being handed bags of groceries which might include unwanted or unneeded items,” says Tamasik.
In 2021 the pantry raised over $21,000 in financial support, not including the thousands of dollars worth of items placed into donations bin in the Church’s parking lot. “The bin is available 24/7, and we check it daily for donations,” comments Tamasik. “We are grateful for the ongoing support of our work. Every organization and individual who has offered a jar of jelly or a check has made this ministry possible.”
In 2021, 74% of the pantry’s financial support came from Verona residents or Verona-based organizations. “We suspect many of the items donated are also provided by Verona residents. Time and time again, this town shows the strength and support it has for fellow residents. The Food Pantry is yet another example,” states Racioppi. The pantry continues to list needed items on the Church’s website.
The Holy Spirit Verona Food Pantry is a ministry of the Church of the Holy Spirit located at 36 Gould Street, Verona, NJ and additional information can be found at: http://www.holyspiritverona.org/food-pantry . The pantry is open every fourth Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. for shoppers. Any questions, or if you are interested in volunteering, please contact (973) 239-2850 or [email protected]