By ERIN ROLL
What will the holidays look like for Montclair’s food pantries?
Some organizations are expecting increased need in the community during the holiday season.
“This is like a really busy time for us. We do a lot of food outreach,” Anne Mernin, director of Toni’s Kitchen, said on Monday.
Toni’s Kitchen is the food service ministry affiliated with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on South Fullerton Avenue.
Mernin said the kitchen especially needs such items as shelf-stable milk and healthy breakfast cereal. Warm clothing, like sweatshirts, are also greatly needed. Mernin noted that donations of any kind, whether of food or money, are always welcome.
Toni’s Kitchen serves dinner on Christmas Day at 11:30 a.m. There is also a special dinner on Christmas Eve.
She said that between its on-site meal service and its community outreach, Toni’s Kitchen expected to serve 100,000 meals.
The number of on-site guests has remained fairly consistent, Mernin said. But the number of clients that Toni’s Kitchen serves in the wider community has doubled in the past two years.
With school closed for the holidays, children from food-insecure families don’t have access to school meals.
Mernin said that the Toni’s Kitchen staff was optimistic that the kitchen would be able to meet its clients’ needs.
In Montclair, an estimated 23 percent of the township’s 14,472 households are classified as being at the poverty level or as “ALICE” households, according to the United Way of Northern New Jersey. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It refers to households that are above the poverty level, but still have trouble affording day-to-day needs or have little in the way of savings.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey states that about 41 million people in the United States, including 1 million people in New Jersey, are deemed as food insecure: not having regular access to affordable, nutritious food.
In Montclair, the subject of food insecurity has come up for discussion in recent years, especially in light of the closing of the Pathmark supermarket in Lackawanna Plaza in 2015.
At Human Needs Food Pantry, the staff was expecting a quiet December, pantry director Mike Bruno said on Tuesday. December is traditionally not as critical a time as November and Thanksgiving: “That’s the one we really have a crazy need for,” Bruno said.
Additionally, he said, December is a time of year when the pantry receives many donations from holiday food drives at businesses and schools.
One item the pantry was especially in need of for the month of December was canned soup. “It’s cold weather, and people need warm soup,” Bruno said.
Human Needs had to send out an appeal just before Thanksgiving when it found that it was low on Thanksgiving-related food items. The resulting donations from the next few days were enough to provide each of the pantry’s clients with a complete meal for the holiday.