In a rather unsettling time - between the 20th Anniversary of 911, Afghanistan and the continuation of COVID - beauty, bounty and hope arose on Sept. 14.
Members of varying religions gathered to pray together with the community and bless the new location of the Sparta Community Food Pantry.
Minister Kim Barnes, from Mount Calvary Baptist Church felt it was an important message of cooperation and understanding between people of different faiths and denominations.
“We united to pray together for this amazing food pantry,” she said. “No matter your faith, it’s important to thank the Lord for the Sparta Food Pantry and others like it.”
The pantry’s mission statement is to be “a community based and supported organization providing nourishment and instilling hope to families and individuals struggling with food insecurity.”
The different religions united over common humanity as members of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Our Lady of the Lakes Roman Catholic Church, The First Presbyterian Church of Sparta, The Sparta United Methodist Church, The Islamic Center of Morris County, Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, The Chabad of Sussex County and St. Kateri Tekakwitha each stood and read a prayer from his or her religious organization.
Our Lady of the Lakes Roman Catholic Church parishioner Nelly Macarro read a blessing prepared by the church’s pastor, Father David McDonnell. It included:
“Gracious God, you invite us to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, and you remind us that when we do so, in some mysterious way, we are ministering to you.”
Each blessing that was read was an inspiration and confirmation of all of the good things that the pantry facilitates.
The Sparta Ecumenical Food pantry has operated in the First Presbyterian Church of Sparta for 33 years but the growth that it experienced during the pandemic pushed the arrangement the pantry had with the church to its limit.
Valerie Maccio, the Sparta Food Pantry Director, has been with the pantry for the past 13 years.
“The church was good enough to let us use the space for many years,” she said. “We totally understand why they wanted the space back. They had given us more space during the pandemic and we’d grown so much that there was no way we could move back to our pre-pandemic footprint so we started looking for a larger facility.”
After looking at possible locations, 99 Demarest Road, in Sparta, became available and the pantry had a new home. Since it moved out of the church, its name changed from Sparta Ecumenical Food Pantry to Sparta Community Food Pantry and opened to serve the community on Wednesday, September 8th, the day following the blessing.
“In addition to the typical non-perishable donations, we have been receiving a sizable weekly donation of meat, dairy and produce,” Maccio said. “The donor wishes to remain anonymous, but this is a chance to keep people healthy with the fresh healthy food.”
The facility on Demarest Road is set up like a store.
“One of the important aspects of the pantry is dignity,” Maccio said. “That’s why we set up the space as we did so that people can feel as if they are in a store.”
The pantry is staffed solely by volunteers, and they go above and beyond to make sure people are cared for. Maccio told the story of a particular man to Rabbi Mendel Dubrow, of Chabad of Sussex County, as he toured the facility.
“We were contacted about a man who was home bound and had gone through a surgery so he couldn’t eat solid foods,” she said. “We picked out soups and things he could make himself that would be easy for him to eat and delivered them to him.”
What the Sparta food pantry does not use gets shared with other organizations in the county such as Benny’s Bodega, The Sussex County Hunger Coalition, Pathways, shelters and school lunch programs around the county. In addition, the Sparta Food Pantry delivers food to people referred to them by local organizations including Newton Medical Center, Karen Ann Quinlan and Zufall who are unable to go out for medical reasons such as having cancer or recovering from a heart attack.
“Since COVID, the need in our community has grown exponentially and the generosity of the community has grown right alongside with that need,” Maccio said. “We are dedicated to our mission of providing hope and healthy food to the people of Northern New Jersey struggling to put food on the table.”
The event was arranged by Elizabeth Siracuse, one of the many valued pantry volunteers.
“It just touches my heart to see you all out here today,” she said to the religious leaders in attendance. “Your prayers touched a chord with all of us.”
The generous support of the community is greatly appreciated and encouraged.
“This event today was about letting the public know that the pantry is here,” Barnes said. “The exposure lets people in need know about the pantry and people who are able to donate food that they would love to have it to get to those less fortunate.”