A proud member of the MEND network of food pantries
Survey says.....
We try to bring in what our clients like and need. 
We recently surveyed a cross-section of our clientele to see how we were doing, six months after we became a full client choice pantry. The switch to client choice, which
allows clients to select their own food, instead of receiving a pre-packed bag of groceries,
has proven very popular. Clients comment on the lack of waste and appreciate being able to choose what works for their individual households.  

Food choices that clients told us they like: fruits; red and other beans; cereal, oatmeal and pancake mix; rice; tuna; mac & cheese; pasta. They also like fish (a choice when we have food from the State Food Purchase Program known as SFPP or a special purchase) and fresh produce and fruits. They would like us to offer more fresh choices if possible, as well as chicken, meats, and eggs. We'd love to offer these choices as well, but logistics (including lack of refrigeration) and cost make it very difficult to do so other than occasionally.

We pay attention to what clients select under the choice system to guide our purchasing whenever possible. So we try to purchase peas and corn but not applesauce, look for dry beans rather than canned. We've been surprised to find anchovies (obtained at the Community Food Bank ["CFB"] at very low cost) were popular, so we purchased a lot when they were again available. Crackers are very popular (you know how expensive they are in a grocery store). 

We also listen to what clients ask for as "extras" - hence the recent Chanukah oil and lightbulb drive!  And we are delighted to sometimes be able to offer our clients "extras" when the CFB receives donations of special items we can procure at free or very low cost; recent "free" (ie, no point) offerings for our clients included sriracha chili sauce, balsamic vinegar, clam sauce, dill pickles, and soy sauce. 
January 11 - a "typical" day at IFPO! 

No day seems to be typical at IFPO.  Here are just a few things that happened on our first January day in 2017. 

*****Our first pantry day of the month is our "slowest " day of the month, and on January 11 we "only" saw 190 clients. Most of our clients are extremely happy to be able to walk through our client choice pantry, but we generally make up 20 - 25 grab-and-go bags (similar to our old "regular bags" each week) for those clients who need to leave quickly due to appointments or who prefer not to wait, for the day care workers at the Church, and for those who don't care to choose. We were delighted to have the support of our Winston School 8th grade volunteers, who brought oranges to give out to our clients.  We strive to give our clients healthy food offerings* and fresh produce, hence we gave out potatoes that day (provided by a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark).

*****We also handed out oil and light bulbs. C ooking oil is one of the most requested items at our food pantry, but not something we would normally be in position to provide to everyone. Thanks to the members of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel and friends, we had more than enough oil for each household - a wondrous mitzvah!

*****Sometimes, in addition to our primary mission of giving out food, we give out "stuff". Today was one of those days.

We have been handing any clothing given to us to the Church for distribution at their Saturday soup kitchen, as it is just too difficult for us to hand it out to our clients during Wednesday hours. Although we had not intended to distribute clothes this week, a flood in the upstairs pantry storage rooms over the holidays caused us to distribute all the accumulated "stuff" to be sure it would not suffer water damage.  We are grateful to our volunteers for their hard work to set out the various clothing items and to help move our clients through the clothing choices. Clients were very happy to get this extra bounty. 

We were also able to distribute a collection of handmade afghans and baby blankets provided by  Project Linus, which were assembled by super volunteer Eileen Davis of our Carpenters Club crew. Project Linus blankets go to children in need: the intention is to give needy children a sense of love and security in the form of a blanket "hug". 

We gave out childrens' books, donated by individuals to our pantry. 
*A mea culpa: 
some of you pointed out that the dried milk we distributed January 11 had numerous additives in it. Thank you for your sharp eyes and drawing our attention to this situation!  We'd switched our milk supplier from ShopRite to the CFB a few months ago based on cost, but mea culpa for our not having read the labels on that CFB-sourced milk. Clearly the price reflects quality, so we are changing back again to Shoprite milk, having used up our CFB-sourced inventory (and we have notified CFB of our concerns).  We appreciate your attention to detail and holding us accountable. 
Why is our client volume so large now? 
We are trying to understand why our client population has grown so rapidly recently. In 2016, IFPO had a grand total of 8,296 visits by 1,184 individuals, 733 fully registered clients plus 451 emergency guests who came one to two times.

We believe that, although we used to see only 25% of our total client base each week we were open (with the rest coming much more infrequently), the percentage of our total client base who come every week has increased. Our clients are now coming to see us more often each month, and more are coming regularly each month (instead of only a few times a year). 

A mid-January report by the United Way may give some insight into why our clients now come more often. The report shows that  37 percent of households in New Jersey could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care and transportation in 2014. While m any households are living below the federal poverty level, an even greater number of households are what United Way calls "ALICE" - an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. 52 percent of all jobs in the state pay less than $20 per hour.

We service a population with tremendous needs. 67% of Orange residents are classified as "ALICE" working poor (#13 in the state), and 59% are "Alice" working poor in East Orange (#28 in the state). With 535 municipalities in NJ, having our clients ranked so high on the "Alice" list is not good. By comparison, Millburn is 522 on the list (12%), South Orange is 465 (18%), Maplewood is 442 (20%).  

We also are seeing increased client numbers as a result of our Diaper program (which now has 201 people and 241 babies enrolled). We started our diaper program two years ago, and it is growing. Our diaper clients generally come to IFPO at least once a month (the last week of the month, when we give out diapers), receiving both diapers and food for their families. In January and February, we averaged giving out diapers for 150 babies on "diaper day", and each of their parents also was a client choice client. 

And, although it is only speculation on our part, we may also be seeing our clients more often because the client choice system (in place since July) better serves our clients needs than the old "grab a pre-packed bag" system, as does our increased provision of toiletries and fresh produce. 
SNAP services were offered to clients.
Volunteer Judy Colton (left) works with a SNAP representative from the CFB to help a client learn about other available support services.
JLOSH, Produce, Arturo's, Cookies and Candy: highlights of recent pantry days

The Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills brought 12 volunteers to pantry on Jan. 25. 

IFPO's Diane Stein is seen below with Peg Williams, Community Service VP and Christina Connant, 
President of JLOSH.
  Peg Williams, Community Service VP and Christina Connant, President of JLOSH

Nicole Ruffo and friends chose to make Inauguration Day all about service to others, collecting groceries for IFPO. We quickly sorted bags filled with pantry staples like cereal, jelly, peanut butter, pasta, chili, tuna, mac and cheese and more and distributed the contents to the choice tables for the 268 clients we served on 1/25. 

Inauguration groceries

Donated candy and treats from Universal Yums were turned into Valentine's bags of love for our clients on 2/8. Due to the large size of this donation, we also were able to give Valentine's bags to Saturday soup kitchen clients of the Church, as well as have additional dessert items for other IFPO pantry dates. 
Universal Yum candy and treats were turned into Valentine's bags for client

Christ Church volunteer hands out Valentine's bags


We're committed to increasing the amount of fresh produce our clients receive. On Jan. 25, both onions and bananas were available as client choice items. On Feb. 22, it was cucumbers and bananas. 

Fresh bananas were distributed on 2.25

We're delighted that Nick Katz and Fred Shandler of Arturo's in Maplewood will be bringing produce with them when they come to pantry once a month to volunteer. On February 8 they treated our clients to carrots and potatoes.
Arturo's Nick Katz and Fred Shandler man the vegetable station

carrots and potatoes from Arturo's

As part of her mitzvah project for her upcoming Bas Mitzvah, Ariella Weiss has been to IFPO numerous times. Here she is with her Mom and the home made cookies she baked to give out to our clients.      

Ariella Weiss baked cookies for our clients

cookies from Carlo's bBakery

So thankful to those groups who recently donated food,  toiletries and more.
Catholic Charities recently delivered a lovely mid-winter bonus: cases of mac and cheese, shelf stable milk, cans of mixed fruit and a colorful array of knitted hats!  
Knitted hats from Catholic Charities helped provide warmth


The Linus Project provided blankets for our diaper clients in January and February thanks to our dedicated volunteer Eileen Davis.
Blankets from Project Linus were given to our diaper clients
Blankets from Project Linus.

New socks from Sisters of Salaam Shalom
Clients were delighted to choose among new socks donated by Sisters of Salaam Shalom.

And our partner Summit Medical Foundation brought 500 bars of soap for clients on Feb. 15. 
Millburn Schools Mobilize for IFPO
Cereal from 100 days celebration at Glenwood kindergartens
Monday, February 13th was the 100th day of school at Glenwood School, Short Hills and we  LOVE how the kindergartens celebrated. Thank you for the many boxes of cereal our clients will enjoy as you counted up!
Deerfield Soup-er Bowl yields 800 cans of Soup for IFPO
It was a SOUPer event at both Hartshorn and Deerfield Schools, Millburn, which collected 400 and 
900 cans of soup for us, respectively! Hearty soups are very much appreciated by our clients (chicken varieties are the #1 favorite). 

South Mountain food drive proceeds delivered.
South Mountain's Food Drive 
provided lots of mac and cheese, peanut butter, soup, vegetables, protein and more that went right out on our choice tables on 2/22, when we served over 260 clients. By the end of the day this food (and more from our pantries) was gone! 
Working together
Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom made toiletry bags for IFPO clients
 Essex County Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization that seeks to build relationships between Muslim and Jewish women, collected toiletries for our clients.
On Feb 15, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom distributed toiletry bags made for IFPO
Bagging the toiletries. 
SOSS at IFPO for toiletry distribution
SOSS came to pantry February 15 to work and distribute the toiletries. 
Diaper Drives and Donations Benefit IFPO clients
Diapers from the Early Childhood Center of the JCC Metrowest Drive
Thanks to Grace Kaplan, the Early Childhood Program of the JCC Metrowest held a fabulous Diaper Drive for us, allowing us to provide  27 babies with our usual month's allotment of diapers. That is over two dozen babies-in-need who will be clean and dry due to their kindness! 
Diaper collection from he Thelma K. Reisman Preschool .
So lucky that the Thelma K. Reisman Preschool of Congregation Beth El gifted our clients with all these diapers! 
Did you know we are happy to also accept those half packs of diapers your child or grandchild has outgrown? 
TSTI 4th graders made winter care packages for IFPO clients
Our Diaper Moms were the recipients of special winter care packages (including hot chocolate, tissues, tea, and lip balm) put together by TSTI 4th graders at their recent Awesome Oneg event. We're so glad these Moms got a little extra love to keep away the winter chill. 
Interfaith Food Pantry 
of the Oranges