If you visited Holy Communion in Norwood on a recent Saturday, you might have spotted Santa Claus – in August.
There is a perfectly rational explanation for this.
On Saturday, August 19, Holy Communion turned one of its food pantry days into “Christmas in August,” a smaller version of its annual Christmas event. In addition to giving out 125 bags packed with food, they set up their parish hall with tables covered with brand-new toys donated by the Bergen County Police Benevolent Association. Stacked both on and underneath two other tables were 50 new backpacks filled with school supplies, donated by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Overseeing it all was “Santa Claus,” a volunteer named Eric who was a good sport about wearing a hot Santa costume in the dog days of August.
In the covered walkway between the church and the parish hall stood more tables with jugs of milk and pantry stables such as flour, sugar, oil, and mayonnaise. Out on the lawn, still more tables were set up flea-market style with gently used toys, household goods, and clothing, donated by parishioners and community members.
All these items were free for the taking to registered clients of Holy Communion’s Choice food pantry.
Holy Communion launched its food pantry in 2012, and like many others “it blew up during the pandemic,” says Joanne Scalpello, Holy Communion’s senior warden and co-director of the food pantry.
Originally serving just Norwood, the food pantry first expanded to serve the towns of Northvale, Harrington Park and Old Teppan, then expanded further to serve the entire northern Bergen County area, and even some households from across the New York state line, located just a few minutes from the church.
In addition to the twice-a-month food distribution, they also hold drives for turkeys, toys, and coats, give away Easter baskets, and hold a regular Christmas event in December.
To register for the food pantry, clients simply need to give their name, phone number, and the number of people in their household. They can then select the food items they need from a list provided in both English and Spanish; the amount of food they can request is based on the size of their household. Volunteers use the lists to pack bags in advance, ready for pickup at 10 AM on the scheduled Saturday.
On this morning, clients began lining up at the check-in table well before start time. Once they checked in, a volunteer brought them their bag or bags of food. They then had the opportunity to browse the milk and pantry staples, the flea market items, and the parish hall filled with toys and backpacks, selecting anything else they needed. Children seemed delighted with picking out their own toys and backpacks and talking to “Santa.”
More than 70 volunteers, who include community members as well as parishioners, keep the food pantry and its related events running. On this day three of the volunteers, Jillian, Ethan, and Kyle, are local high school students who all started volunteering there as an activity to include in their college applications, but have continued because, as Jillian says, “It’s fun.” Kyle has even gotten his mother to join him as a volunteer.
Scalpello says they are working with the Bergen County Health Department to make one of their monthly events a pop-up health event with resources on healthy eating, exercise, and mental health issues, that would be a model for other area food pantries.
Holy Communion also works with the Bergen County Office of Food Security, which supports more than 70 food pantries with grants, resource guides, and database software. In addition to the Bergen County PBA and the Jewish Federation, other partners include the local Women’s Club and Seniors’ Club; the American Legion; the Girl Scouts; Open Closet, an organization offering second-hand clothing; Catholic Charities; and several local churches of other denominations. St. Luke’s, Haworth and St. Andrews, Harrington Park collect food donations for them monthly.
Speaking of all the organizations, schools, churches and many community members who consistently donate to the food pantry, Scalpello beams.
“We are truly blessed,” she says.
All photos by Nina Nicholson.