Food pantry will stay at Jackson DPW site

Staff Writer

Almost a decade after the Jackson Women of Today moved its food pantry to space at a Department of Public Works (DPW) facility, municipal officials are still working with the group to find a new location for the operation.

Since 2007, the Jackson Food Pantry has been providing food, supplies and other services to individuals in need from space at the DPW facility at 10 Don Connor Blvd.

Despite concerns expressed by some individuals on social media that the food pantry was going to be removed from the facility, Business Administrator Helene Schlegel said no such action is being taken by the township.

“Let me clarify that the food pantry was not told to – and does not have to – move,” Schlegel said. “We are working, however, to find them a more suitable spot.”

Mayor Michael Reina, who volunteered at the food pantry for two years, dismissed the notion that municipal officials would suddenly require the pantry’s operators to find a new location immediately, despite what some people have asserted online.

“The pantry is a tremendous asset. The (operators) do a thankless job and they help people constantly,” Reina said. “There is no reason for the township to say [the pantry needs to move], let alone think something like that.”

In August 2007, a fire at the former code enforcement office on Don Connor Boulevard caused substantial smoke damage to the food pantry, which had been operating on the other side of the building.

The food pantry was moved to the DPW facility and restocked in time for the next distribution date the following month. Officials said the move was always considered to be a temporary shift until another location could be found. “The township is working with the food pantry to secure them a better location,” Schlegel said. “The township fully supports and appreciates the efforts of the food pantry.”

According to Schlegel, the need to find a better location for the pantry stems largely from its growing list of clients that has begun to outgrow the DPW facility, which officials believe could lead to safety issues.

Safety concerns at the DPW site were highlighted earlier this year when an individual who was waiting on line at the food pantry was struck by ice that slid off the roof of the building.

Food pantry director Peggy Heath said the incident did not have anything to do with the pantry itself and noted that the ice could have struck anyone at the location.

“A public works facility is not an optimum spot for a food pantry. There is heavy equipment going in and out, as well as emergency vehicles,” Schlegel said.

In recent years the food pantry has been called on to serve about 140 families each month. During the holiday months that number may rise to 200 families that are provided with food, supplies and other services.

“We have grown so much and done so much for the Jackson community that we are hoping [the township will] help find a place for us,” Heath said. “The Jackson Women of Today have been running the food pantry for 28 years.”

According to Heath, the food pantry needs a facility that can house about eight freezers, has a working heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and has a generator to support the freezers in the event of a loss of power. Adequate parking is also a consideration.

According to Reina, the pantry’s needs cannot currently be met by any township owned facility other than the DPW building.

“There are probably buildings out there … [that] the township would have to purchase or try to lease, but nobody has stepped forward with any offers” he said.

Reina said money that could be spent on a new home for the food pantry was better spent “keeping services going and keeping the pantry going where it is.”

“The township, as much as we would like to say we have a building for them, we don’t at the present time,” the mayor said. “Based on the financial situation of not only the township, but the county and the state … there is really no money to go out and start doing additions and putting up new buildings.”

Schlegel and Reina said that until a better option can be found, the food pantry will remain at the DPW facility.

“[The pantry] is not the most optimum facility to have, but it works. Families are being fed, they are being supplied with what they need and we are happy with their service,” Reina said. “There are a lot of good people involved here and I cannot thank them enough for what they do.”