LAKE HOPATCON – Food pantries around the area are steadily distributing turkeys and food goods collected this holiday season, with most of the pantries reporting an increase in the need for supplying free turkeys and all the trimmings to local families this holiday season.

At Save The People food pantry at West Side Methodist Church in Hopatcong, 120 families will be fed this Thanksgiving, up from last year, said long-time coordinator Dick Hodson.

According to Father Christopher Muldoon, Pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Lake Hopatcong, the parish food pantry will distribute close to 60 baskets of food this week, up by a half dozen from last year.

At New Hope Food Pantry at the Milton United Methodist Church in Jefferson, 52 families tapped into the food pantry, up from 47 in 2012.

According to Carol Everitt, a volunteer coordinator at New Hope for the last 10 years, their food pantry has seen a steady increase in use every month for the past few years. Through the generosity of the congregation, school groups, scouts and other civic organizations, New Hope has been able to meet the need, said Everitt.

The Hurdtown United Methodist Church in Jefferson only services a small number of people, said Debbie Ferguson, food pantry coordinator, but saw a spike in need this past October, helping 31 people.

“For us, that’s a lot,” said Ferguson.

Both Hodson and Father Muldoon agree that their pantries are full and there is plenty of food to distribute in time for Thanksgiving.

“People give, give, give for Thanksgiving,” said Hodson, who has been affiliated with the Save The People food pantry for 25 years. “We get a little less for Christmas, then January, February, March, even less.”

The food pantry at Our Lady Star of the Sea and Save The People food pantry operate year round, relying on donations from parish members and outside donations.

“Generally our parish is very committed all year round,” said Father Muldoon. “Occasionally we need to make an appeal to the parishioners for specific items,” he said. Father Muldoon said he was concerned his food pantry was not going to get turkeys for this year’s distribution, but “it came together in the end, God’s will,” he said, and now they have more than enough. Students from Pope John High School in Sparta and the DECA club from Jefferson Township High School were instrumental in providing food baskets this year, said Father Muldoon.

In Hopatcong, Save The People relies on the kindness of the West Side Methodist members, the borough residents and any outside source Hodson can convince to help maintain the 40-plus-year-old organization, including the Hopatcong Women’s Club, the Lenape Kiwanis and the Rotary Club.

“People that find themselves in need, that’s a line that shifts all the time,” said Hodson. “The family that is in need fluctuates. The need for giving is there 365 days a year. If it were only at Thanksgiving it’d be a snap, but the need is there all year long,” he said.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Barbara, a resident of Jefferson, visited Our Lady Star of the Sea food pantry for the first time, picking up a basket of food and a turkey for her family’s Thanksgiving Day meal.

“I just hope I don’t have to do it a lot,” she said of as she picked out a turkey. “I’d rather give than receive,” she said, explaining that her family dynamics have changed this year, forcing her to seek assistance.

“It’s (the food baskets) a godsend,” said Cathy, an out-of-work Jefferson mother and wife whose husband has taken a major pay cut in the past year. “We’d be lost without it because times are worse than ever,” she said.

For volunteers like Everitt at New Hope and Byron White at Our Lady Star of Sea, helping others in a time a need is a calling.

“The people who come here are always cheery, even though they might be embarrassed,” said White. “You know you’re helping people and you always get a lot of stories,” he said.

“It’s a very rewarding experience to be able to help people, and a must needed ministry,” said Everitt.

Three churches in Hopatcong, Byram Bay Christian Church, St. Jude’s Parish and West Side Methodist Church, and two in Jefferson, Our Lady Star of the Sea and Hurdtown United Methodist Church, banded together and will be offering Thanksgiving Day dinners to anyone in need of a meal.

Hurdtown United Methodist will host a dinner beginning at noon until 3pm. Dinner will be served at St. Jude’s Parish Hall beginning at 12:30.

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