Charitable non-profit organizations are businesses, too. Instead of marketing, they rely on public relations; instead of paying many salaries, they rely upon a few paid administrators and the work of volunteers. They don’t pay taxes, but they do have to keep records and file tax returns. Unlike for-profit businesses, they don’t aim to please their shareholders; they aim to fulfill their mission of service.
This week, my son was invited to a birthday party, where the parents requested that instead of gifts, guests bring canned goods to donate to the West Orange Food Pantry. This is the second birthday party we’ve been to with this request. (In both cases, we were assured that the birthday boys would be getting plenty of gifts from relatives.)
I decided to find out how the West Orange Food Pantry worked. I spoke to Cynthia Cumming, West Orange Food Pantry Administrator and Parish Administrator at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 307 Main Street in West Orange.
The food pantry opened in 2002, Cumming told me. “It started with four bags of groceries given to a hungry family and we haven’t looked back since.”
This year, the West Orange Food Pantry joined the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which means that they now qualify to receive federal and state food and can shop at the FoodBank for items the West Orange Food Bank needs.
I asked Cumming what it meant for their food pantry. “Well, we get several free shipments of food and we can buy food at the [Community FoodBank of New Jersey]. It also means more paperwork for me,” she laughed.
I asked Cumming if it were easy to join the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “Not that easy,” she said. “You have to have a Certified Food Handler; a contract with a pest control company [Advantage Pest Control donates their services]; you have to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; and you have to maintain paperwork.”
Cumming also told me that unlike most food banks, Holy Trinity runs purely on donations of both food and money. “It’s very rare to find any charitable organization where one hundred percent of donations go directly to the program.”
I asked if her salary comes out of any part of the donations. “No,” she said. “My salary and [another worker’s] is covered by the church, under my job as Parish Administrator, not by donations to the food bank.”
“Food banks are closing everywhere,” Cumming said. “But the people of West Orange are so generous with us. And believe me, [the food] all goes out. We feed four to five hundred people a month. About half are kids; about 20 percent are seniors.”
At Christmastime, kindergarteners from Playhouse Nursery School, just down the block from Holy Trinity, on Franklin Avenue, pack up red wagons with donations of food collected and walk them down to the church. “It’s so cute to see the little ones,” Cumming added.
Washington School, which is across the street from Holy Trinity, also contributes. “The kids form a line between their school and the church. They pass cans, one-by-one, down the line until they reach the pantry,” Cumming said. “It’s really something to see.”
Holy Trinity also hosts a soup kitchen and a thrift shop.
“For a little congregation, it’s amazing what these people pull off,” Cumming said.
The West Orange Food Pantry serves West Orange, Orange and East Orange. It is open five times a month. The last two Tuesdays and Fridays of the month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Then the last Monday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Families must register and show proof of need and proof of residence. Once part of the program, they are allowed one visit to the pantry per month.