When school was in session, New Jersey fed students breakfast and lunch five days a week. But that all stopped when Covid-19 shut down schools and workplaces, increasing the number of local residents going hungry.
To meet this new and growing demand, a pantry popped up in Waterloo.
At the start of the pandemic, Sharon Leon prepared 10 bags of groceries, which she offered to community members in a Facebook post. Then the church announced they had a pantry.
“The Waterloo Methodist Church has a wonderful community of people, the most caring group of people I’ve ever met,” Leon said. “It’s a congregation of 30 people who live all around the area.”
Tim Nicinski is the church pastor — “Everyone calls him Pastor Tim,” said Leon — and a former superintendent of schools in Stanhope. Leon knew him from when her son attended school in Stanhope. Because the church is a historical building without storage, Leon left 10 bags of food at the school.
Leon started packing more bags and taking them to the school and the church. It was a grassroots effort.
The need for food widened as the Covid crisis worsened. Leon, Waterloo parishioners, and other community members, including her husband, packed more bags. They didn’t ask the people who accepted them for their names or circumstances. Their goal was to meet a need.
Members of the community garden in Roseville brought fresh vegetables. People brought fresh vegetables from their own gardens and left them on her doorstep.
In the winter, people brought vegetables, both canned and fresh, from grocery stores.
Leon said Waterloo, Byram, Stanhope, and Netcong are located close together, and she’s working to get help to all four places.
’People helping people’
Leon said she knows there are more people who need help. She posts contact information on Facebook in an effort to find them.
People have lost jobs or saw their hours reduced, she said, and some women quit their jobs to take care of children who were now at home instead of school. Many have no money left for food after paying for medical benefits and housing. People want to help too, she said, but don’t know what to do because “we have never experienced a pandemic.”
“Many times I walk outside and I have food sitting on my front porch,” said Leon.
People order via Amazon wish lists. Food gets sent to a friend’s house, where her husband sorts it and brings it to the pantry.
When asked to name volunteers, she began with, “Donna and Stan Griff, Nisha Kash, Denise (Oh! What is her last name?), Ginny Lepore and Ellen, Rick and Cassie Scherr, George and Judy Leonard and then....There are so many many more. I really don’t want to miss anyone, so maybe I shouldn’t name anyone. Many people in our community stepped up and gave so much.”
In addition to individuals, Leon said, “We have been working alongside Stanhope Council members, the Local VFW, Lakeland Little League, Lakers Soccer Club, Lenape Girl Scouts, Lenape Kiwanis, Roseville Community Garden and, of course, our local neighbors. When I tell you that it has been a labor of love I do not lie. No one should go hungry. The new buzzword is ‘food insecure,’ but this to me sanitizes the fact that people are hungry. We have just gained new partners in Byram which include Salt Gastropub, Neilson Nissan, and New Jersey Discount Tire, and we look forward to many other new partnerships in Stanhope and Netcong.”
Leon said mobile delivery is available to bring food to those unable to pick it up.
“We started out by feeding about 40 people a week and are now feeding between 150 and 200 people a week,” said Leon. “We provide weekly pickups or deliveries and try to provide enough food for the family size. As we continue down this pandemic journey, the need continues to grow. Our pantry has moved twice, and we hope to secure a permanent location within the next month.”
A few bags of groceries packed out of love and concern at the start of the pandemic is now a robust effort to wipe out hunger.
“It’s a community effort,” said Leon. “It’s not about people supporting the church, it’s about people helping people.”
“Many times I walk outside and I have food sitting on my front porch.” Sharon Leon