The new kid on the block wants to be a good neighbor.
Wegmans, which is scheduled to open a supermarket in Hanover Township next month, donated more than 8,000 pounds of groceries to the Interfaith Food Pantry on Thursday.
The food came on nine pallets so hefty that a forklift was required to offload them from the truck, which traveled to Morris Plains all the way from Wegmans’ Maryland Food Bank.
Much of this bounty will be distributed to families whose children typically receive subsidized meals at school, but are home for the summer.
Another nine-pallet food shipment from Wegmans is scheduled for September.
“One of our priorities is feeding the hungry and feeding the community,” said Wegmans Store Manager Tim Lockwood, who will be joining the food pantry board next month.
“As soon as Wegmans made the decision to come to Morris County, they’ve been asking us what they can do to help,” said IFP Executive Director Rosemary Gilmartin.
Wegmans already has sponsored the food pantry’s annual Spring Gala and Golf Outing in 2015 and 2016.
The chain also supports IFP’s “Kitchen-to-Table” volunteer program, which delivers nutritious and easy-to-prepare meals to disabled and elderly clients.
Set to open on Sylvan Way in Hanover on July 23, 2017, the 128,000-square-foot Wegmans will be even larger than the mammoth ShopRite nearby on Hanover Avenue in Cedar Knolls.
HELPING CLIENTS ‘MAKE ENDS MEET’
The Interfaith Food Pantry supplies about a million pounds of food to 10,000 clients every year.
Although the majority of clients across Morris County are low-income families, this isn’t the only population helped by the nonprofit.
“It’s not what people think,” said Gilmartin. “We serve a large number of seniors who have worked their whole lives but didn’t have large pensions and are now trying to make ends meet.”
The food pantry also aids those who are disabled or have mental health issues.
“We serve people with stories,” said Director Carolyn Lake. “Cancer survivors, people with disabilities and more.”
Because of the high cost of living in Morris County, many working families need a hand, too.
Soaring costs of health insurance, housing, and child care, which can run as high as $16,000 to $20,000 per year, combined with a lack of public transportation, means money for food often is scarce for families, Gilmartin said.
“What we find is that our people work everywhere. They work in schools, they work in supermarkets, they work in all kinds of industries,” she said.
“We get all the people in their mid-50s, who got let go during the recession. And a lot of them never got that same job again, so now they’re piecing together a lot of different jobs.”
Because the food pantry is not government-funded, it can help anybody regardless of his or her income.
“It’s everybody,” Gilmartin said. “You can be here standing side-by-side with a teacher, or someone who is a clerk at a store. It’s a great equalizer.”
Hunger in Morris County is not rising, but “it’s prevalent, persistent and hidden,” according to Lake.
The food pantry is looking to partner with the Dover Library to prepare “snack packs, juice boxes and peanut butter” for children who attend the library daily for long periods of time.
Gilmartin emphasized the important role that local supermarket managers, like Wegmans’ Lockwood, play as board members.
For example, she said, “we need help looking at our future refrigeration needs. Healthy, fresh produce is really critical. It’s something everyone is focusing on. But handling it is a challenge. Going forward, Wegmans has offered to sit down and discuss these types of needs.”
Supermarkets also hold fundraisers for the organization.
Kings Food Markets, for example, is running a “Pantry Apple Program,” selling paper apples at six of their Morris County locations to support the food pantry and raise awareness about hunger in Morris County.
In the past, Kings also has sponsored IFP’s Spring Gala and provided floral arrangements for the event.
So far, the food pantry never has had to turn anyone away, thanks to these local partnerships.
“I think supermarkets really understand the issue of hunger and nutrition,” said Gilmartin.