IMG_3602The holiday season, especially Thanksgiving is always the most bountiful time for food pantries. And despite the effects of super storm Sandy, and thanks in part to the efforts of the Hopatcong Women’s Club food drive, the Save the People (STP) food pantry at West Side Methodist Church in Hopatcong, is in full operation, serving over 100 local families this week, with offerings of turkeys and all the trimmings.
The Hopatcong Women’s Club, STP and its relationship with West Side Methodist Church has been in continuous operation for about 8 years. The church has been offering a form of food distribution since the late 1970’s, but nothing like the scale of today’s operation, said Dick Hodson, who runs the food pantry and who has been affiliated with the food pantry for about 24 years.
Women’s Club member Carolyn Lynch, and her husband, Tom, are the man power behind the food drive.IMG_3574 Every week they drive to five designated locations to collect food donations left in their drop bins, even during the weeks following Sandy, when they did not have power or heat at their own home. Staying with their daughter in another town, Carolyn, 79, and Tom, 84, made the trip back to Hopatcong, knowing, as Tom said, that people would not forget to put food in their drop bins.
Using an old fish scale hooked to the back door of their van, the Lynch’s weigh all the food collected from each drop site and then deliver it directly to West Side Methodist Church. Once there, the food is sorted and made ready for pickup. With no middle man to deal with, like a food bank, the direct delivery saves time and money for all the volunteers who help at the food pantry.
“The food gets to the people it’s supposed to get to,” said Tom, who along with his wife, estimates that by the end of this calendar year, they will have collected close to 18,000 pounds of food over the course of 8 years.
According to Hodson, former mayor of Hopatcong, Carolyn and Tom make a “faithful contribution” in order to help others. And like the Lynch’s, Hodson has been tireless in his efforts to help local families in need of food. Hodson has been at the church to greet most of the families who signed IMG_3386up for a Thanksgiving meal. When he is not greeting, he is organizing and coordinating local youth groups who volunteer to sort through the bags of food brought into the church. Recently, Donna Luciani, a scout mom with Cub Scout Pack 194 who collected a large amount of food, dropped by the church to confirm the pack’s date to sort and box food in time for Christmas. According to Luciani, it’s a good life lesson for the boys.
“They get to see what happens to all the food they collected. They know once they’ve boxed it, it will go to a family in need,” she said.
Hodson also elicits help from local merchants. The 3 In 1 Deli and Grocery on Hopatchung Road is able to store all 100 frozen turkeys until they are needed on distribution days. The Shop Rites from Newton, Byram, and Succasunna also provide the boxes needed to transport the food from the pantry to the families. According to Hodson, Shop Rite has been very generous over the years.
The food pantry is open Monday through Thursday, 9:30-12:30, all year long. For Thanksgiving, ChristmasIMG_3401 and Easter, they do a major distribution, including the turkeys at Thanksgiving. To supplement local food donations, the pantry uses money raised to buy food from the NORWESCAP food bank located in Phillipsburg. According to Carolyn Lynch, during the summer months donations tend to be light but getting into the winter months, donations pick up dramatically.
“It’s a big help,” said a Hopatcong resident who asked to remain anonymous. “I try to use it sparingly. They’re always here to help when things get tough,” he said.

IMG_3397Dick Hodson stands at the back wall of West Side Methodist Church, surrounded by bags and boxes of food collected for the holiday season.

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