New Brunswick food pantry serves residents
Vanessa's Food Pantry in New Brunswick has provided food for those in need for more than 20 years.
Volunteers at the food pantry located at the Emanuel Lutheran Church help to unload food, stack shelves, bag food, clean, break down boxes for recycling and pick up food from The Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services twice a week, said Vanessa Dunzik, food pantry coordinator.
Volunteers also pick up a U-Haul truck and collect food from the Hillside Community Food Bank of New Jersey, register clients, complete paperwork and reports for receipt of state and federal food programs, Dunzik said.
The food pantry started a new program where they pick up donated food from local supermarkets, such as the Shoprite in East Brunswick, she said.
Dunzik has been working at the food pantry for 13 years. She started working at the food pantry when it was a small closet that served mainly the homeless population, she said.
The food pantry realized they needed to expand and partnered with Hillside community food bank in 2010, Dunzik said, as well as moving to a new location in the Emanuel Lutheran Church's education building across the street.
“I am humbled that the church chose to name the pantry 'Vanessa’s Pantry,'" she said. “The truth is the pantry would not be where it is without the support of Emanuel Lutheran Church, its Pastor Jeffrey Eaton, its council and most of all its congregation."
Currently Vanessa’s Food Pantry lacks space, time and money, but there is no suitable solution for this problem right now, Dunzik said. The food pantry would like to increase their hours but they lack volunteers.
Since the food pantry is a part of the church ministry the space they use and the utilities are a part of the church’s budget, she said. Money donated specifically to the pantry can be used entirely for pantry expenses such as purchase of food, cleaning supplies and the U-Haul rental fee.
“We are not at this moment feeling any 'hardship' other than seeing how many people in New Brunswick and the surrounding communities are in need of pantries such as ours, we wish we could ease their burdens more,” Dunzik said.
A majority of the families that visit Vanessa’s Food Pantry are multi-generational, Hispanic, living in New Brunswick and walk to the food pantry, she said. Over the last year, the pantry has served more people over the age of 18 than children.
“The pipe dream would be that we could function as a free supermarket, that people could shop at our pantry,” Dunzik said.
Vanessa’s Food Pantry provides at least four bags of food to the people they serve, she said. Due to restrictions on some of their food they only allow their patrons to come once a month.
For a few of the patrons at Vanessa’s Food Pantry, the rent and utilities are not getting paid either and they are living in hotel rooms or a car, she said.
“When you see people who are choosing between paying rent or utilities instead of buying food you adjust your idea of how bad you think you might have it,” Dunzik said.
Volunteering at a food pantry can offer people a new focus of their life, she said.
Keith Murphy, a recovery counselor at the Center for Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services at Rutgers, partners with the students from the Recovery House to volunteer at Vanessa’s Food Pantry, he said.
Currently six students have volunteered at the food pantry, he said, and four students visit the food pantry monthly. Murphy and his students have been volunteering at Vanessa’s Food Pantry for about a year and a half.
Murphy had students volunteer during spring break, in the cold and in the rain, he said. His students help unload the trucks and sort food.
“They love volunteering and helping out at Vanessa’s Food Pantry because it helps them see the world and struggles that others may have,” he said. "I love and appreciate their willingness to share their time and talent to help in the community."
The food pantry is a great way for the students from the Recovery House to see how being a giver can directly change someone's life, Murphy said.
Donna Holden, a Rutgers University Class of 2007 graduate, started to volunteer for Vanessa’s Food Pantry in 2006, she said.
Holden assists clients with filling out the intake forms at the food pantry and signs them in for the month, she said.
“Volunteering for the pantry has been one of the most fulfilling things I have done,” she said.“To be able to help in any way that I can is a privilege, and I love being a part of a community such as Emanuel where I can be of assistance."
Volunteering at the food pantry has made Holden more aware of how many families are hungry, she said. When Holden first started volunteering she would often go home thinking about all the hungry people with tears in her eyes.
“My gratitude in life has changed tremendously over the years,” Holden said. “Over the years I have come to know some of the people very well and enjoy being able to greet them with a smile and send them off with one less worry of how they will feed their family."
Jessica Herring is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in English. She is a staff writer at The Daily Targum. She can be found on Twitter @Jesslindsey93.