March 30, 2011
The Rev. Diane Riley
Over the last two decades, the local community food pantry has become as ubiquitous as a Dunkin Donuts or a Starbucks. The Community Food Bank counts over 1500 of these pantries among its partners in the state of New Jersey. That means 1500 individual small community food pantries deliver an astounding 37 million pounds of food yearly. Sadly, there is that much need. But that also means there are over 1500 places and infinitely more opportunities to bring about healing and connection. Epiphany Food Pantry in Orange is one such pantry. In operation in various incarnations for decades, Epiphany has recently been reactivated by a group of young men largely because of the growing need of the hungry in their community, but also because of the need for the worshiping community to continue to connect their faith with action. Like 68% of the food pantries in New Jersey, Epiphany is run entirely by volunteers and continues to serve almost 300 families in need monthly. While the last few years have seen a growing number of new and diverse clients visiting food pantries, many of the food pantry clients are regular monthly customers. The term “emergency” does not seem to apply any more. Unfortunately, what was once emergency need has become a much needed way of life. For Joseph Grant, one of the food pantry volunteers, the growing awareness of this fact and his regular service has brought about a different kind of Epiphany. “When I first started working in the food pantry and realized that the people were coming again and again, I assumed that they had gotten themselves into a habit. That they were comfortable getting food for free and that they were unwilling to work. This was so wrong. Many of our clients are seniors who have worked hard all their lives and who now only come here because they are spending so much of their fixed income on their growing medical costs. They must choose between taking needed medication or eating. That was an eye opener.” What Joseph discovered was what many of the people who work in food pantries already know: 1 in 3 of the 900,000 yearly food bank clients need to make such choices. Joseph also discovered something else — that the people serving food were really very similar to the people receiving food. Today many of the serving volunteers at the Epiphany pantry are also food pantry clients and are eager to help in a way that they can, by giving service hours to the pantry. The collaboration between those who come to serve and those who are served has blurred the line between who gives and who receives. The local community food pantry may be like Dunkin Donuts in that it is a common community place where people gather, but unlike a coffee house a faith-based pantry is a place where a diverse group of people do more than brush up against each other. It is a place that confronts us and dares us to live our faith. A place that challenges our assumptions and gives us an opportunity to see Christ in our neighbor as well as ourselves. The award of Alleluia funds has helped Epiphany Food Pantry pay for the cost of transporting and collecting food on a monthly basis. Without the financial support of the Alleluia Fund, the program would incur costs that could otherwise be spent on food to serve clients, and decrease the capacity of the pantry. To learn more about the Epiphany Food Pantry, contact Joseph Grant or the Rev. Miguelina Howell at 973-676-8886.