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Paused by pandemic, food pantry in Orange quickly adapts

Volunteer Joyce Ifill staffs a table at the Epiphany and Christ Church, Orange food pantry on June 20. GERALDINE STEMPER PHOTO
Nina Nicholson
Volunteer Joyce Ifill staffs a table at the Epiphany and Christ Church, Orange food pantry on June 20. GERALDINE STEMPER PHOTO

When Epiphany, Orange and Christ Church, East Orange became one congregation in 2015, their well-established feeding ministries became one as well. Like the congregations, the feeding ministries relocated to the church building in Orange.

“The people just walked a little further up Main Street,” said Sharonda Bailey, Director of the food pantry.

The new Church of the Epiphany and Christ Church in Orange continued serving hot meals in the parish hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a ministry inherited from Christ Church, and on Saturdays along with a distribution of clothing and emergency grocery bags, a ministry inherited from Epiphany.

Then on March 14, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down their entire feeding ministry for nearly three full months. They were finally able to reopen on June 6.

“We set up tents and we bring everything outside,” said Bailey.

The food pantry is currently operating every Saturday from 11 AM until 1:30 PM. Eight to 10 parishioners work alongside volunteers from one of their four partner organizations – Families & Community Together (FACT), Outpost in the Burbs, Sathya Sai International Organization – USA and Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange.

Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer are provided to all volunteers, as well as to any clients who do not bring their own. Clients line up in the parking lot, six feet apart. Meals and emergency grocery bags are placed on tables for the clients to pick up in a contact-free distribution, while the volunteers write down their names.

Bag lunches have largely replaced the hot meals. However, Bailey notes that one of their partners is working to bring back hot meals for carry-out.

“Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel partnered with a local restaurant in Maplewood and South Orange that made hot meals for them. They've reached out to a few of the restaurants in the area to support Black businesses, and they're going to be making hot meals again – little takeaway lunches – which is great.”

Pre-pandemic, the food pantry would distribute 60 to 80 emergency grocery bags each Saturday, with food provided by the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark. A family could take one emergency grocery bag a month.

“Now whoever comes can grab a bag,” said Bailey, and the number of food items in the bags has been increased.

The one ministry they haven’t been able to continue during the pandemic is the distribution of clothing. “Because we're outside in the parking lot, we're not equipped to set up to give out clothes just yet,” Bailey said.

When asked what the food pantry needs most right now, Bailey doesn’t hesitate: “A large commercial freezer.”

She explains, “One Saturday a month we get a truckload of food from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and a lot of it is frozen meats. We only have one large commercial freezer that we're housing all this in, and what we've been doing is, for us not to have the food go to waste, we’ve just been giving people extra meat. So the support of purchasing a new additional commercial freezer would be excellent.”

The Diocese of Newark has set up online giving to support the diocese’s food pantries. Simply visit and go to Area of Greatest Need: Food Pantries (second item from the top). Donations made from July 22 through August 4, 2020 will go to the food pantry at the Church of the Epiphany and Christ Church, Orange.