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Westwood NJ Food Pantry distributes food before Thanksgiving
The Parkside Community Church Food Pantry in Westwood distributes fresh produce and hot meals in partnership with local vendors and volunteers.
Anne-Marie Caruso, NorthJersey.com
On Sunday night, fresh fruits and vegetables that weren’t for sale at the Oradell Farmers Market were just thrown in the trash.
For former Borough Council member Thomas Kelly, who helps out with the market, the solution was clear when he saw what was going on.
A solution coordinated by Kelly and other volunteers sent leftover produce from the market to the food pantry at Parkside Community Church in nearby Westwood. The partnership, which began this fall, gives Pantry customers access to fresh produce, not just perishable food tins and boxes.
“It’s perfect to be on people’s tables after just a day,” says Kelly.
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The collaboration grew out of connections with the Oladell Emerson Rotary Club, of which Kelly is president and of which Lisa Bontemps, the church’s food pantry coordinator, is also a member. Volunteers, including students from Riverdell High School, took all of the remaining perishable stock after the market closed on Berdoran Avenue at 3:45 p.m. to his pantry on 4th Avenue. Produce varies weekly, from nectarines to spinach to bok choy.
“I noticed a ton of produce being dumped in the trash,” Kelly said. “It’s a great example of people in the community helping each other. It’s really empowering to see that and it makes us proud.”
This was the first time The Pantry had partnered with a farmers market to get fresh produce. Although the market was closed for the season around Thanksgiving, both organizations look forward to continuing their partnership next year. The Oradell Market could open in the spring instead of the summer for an early start to ongoing donations, Kelly said.
Kurt Poehler, owner of Spring House Farms and a marketable fruit and vegetable farmer, has embarked on a partnership with Parkside Community Church. He had already helped Red He Bank’s Farmers direct leftovers from his market to Food Not Bombs, a volunteer group that distributes surplus food to communities.
One of Parkside Pantry’s beneficiaries is Westwood House, a low-income housing provider. However, the service is available to anyone in need of food from Westwood and surrounding towns. The amount of produce available varies from 50 to 200 pounds each week, depending on the time of year. This will likely allow him to feed up to 50 to 60 families, covering more than 250 people, Bontemps said.
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“I was really lucky to get a nice one,” she said.
Instead of handing out boxes of pre-sorted food, pantries let customers “shop” the shelves and pick out the items they want, just like they do at the grocery store.
With the donation from Oradell, “they’re getting really good quality stuff, which is even more exciting,” says Bontemps.
Parkside Community Church operates a full-service weekly food pantry and receives Table to Table, community-based food rescue programs, and other donations from grocery stores such as Wegman’s and Whole Foods.
As additional food became available, Oradell volunteers also sent food to programs run by the United Methodist Church of Westwood and Mount Zion Baptist Church for monthly distributions. Food was also sent to Inglewood and Patterson’s pantries.
“You can give them things like potatoes and apples that don’t spoil as much as leafy greens,” says Bontemps. “I try to share as much as possible to feed as many people as possible and to be as wasteless as possible.”
Normally, when a grocery store receives fruit and vegetables from the grocery store, it’s still healthy and safe to eat, but it may be near its “use by” date. However, farmer’s market produce is very fresh by comparison.
Kelly said she hopes the program will foster connections with other farmers markets and local pantries.
“There’s a need there,” he said.
Stephanie Noda is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. Subscribe today or activate your digital account for unlimited access to the most important news from your local community.