Saturday, April 5, 2008

Group of Women Give Food and Hope to the Needy

Beyond a brown door, situated between two shutters housing ambulances, is the Chester Food Pantry, a small space on 100 North Road dedicated to helping the poor and the needy.

“The township of Chester has been tremendously good to us,” says Jacki Spinelli, who spearheads the project and makes sure that the deliveries get out on time once a month to a wide assortment of people around the area, “I want to be sure we are helping everyone that needs the help," Spinelli says.

Jacki actually works with a group of dedicated workers who come in every Wednesday (“Hell or high water,” she says) to receive the food, check for expiration dates, and build up the well adorned shelves and tables inside the Pantry that contain the items and foods that many residents within and outside the township of Chester need.

“If they’re [the needy] referred to us, we help them,” says Spinelli.

But as an organization that gets all of their items donated from outside sources, the women at the Pantry consider it more of a team effort rather than any individual mission.

“We depend on the generosity of the local people,” says Joyce Casillo, who’s one of the workers who comes in on Wednesday mornings from 9-11 a.m. to help fix the shelves. Joyce, who shares the space with about eight or nine others, admits that some of the people who donate are affluent, while others are just scraping by like everybody else. “[There are] some people who donate who don’t have much themselves,” Casillo says, “[And] these are everyday people who count their pennies like everybody else.”

In a way, it only seems fitting how much this is a community based effort when one considers the origins of the small location.

Given to the women by the Chester Township, the Pantry started out as basically a small space on the floor of a restaurant no longer in business anymore once called, “Larison’s.”

“There were under ten [different families and people receiving food] at the beginning,” says Spinelli.

But ten blossomed to more due to economic conditions and the fact that more people were finding out about the pantry.

So they moved, and they never turned back since.

“The township bought this [the Pantry] and gave us the two bays,” says Spinelli.

Some of the groups that have donated over the eight years that they’ve been in operation are the local churches, ShopRite, and especially Mendham high school, which has a drive of their own every year that pits classrooms against each other to see which can amass the most goods for the Pantry.

“I like to think of this as by the people, for the people,” says Spinelli.

And with the amount of food that the Pantry has to offer, delivered by the people, for the people, she has it exactly right, the Pantry belongs to the community. She just happens to be a part of it.


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