The Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges (IFPO) provides supplemental and emergency food, fresh produce, diapers, menstrual care products and toiletries to low-income individuals and families. The IFPO primarily assists residents of Orange, East Orange, and West Orange, NJ. The IFPO is an all-volunteer, collaborative effort of four religious congregations in Short Hills and South Orange, New Jersey — Christ Church in Short Hills, Congregation Beth El, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, and Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel.
The IFPO has been serving the Orange and East Orange communities for more than 25 years, growing tremendously from a small group that initially served 20-30 clients per week. In 2019, the IFPO assisted nearly 38,000 area residents,18,000 of whom were children. There were over 12,000 total pantry visits in 2019, double the number of pantry visits from 5 years ago. Despite having limited operations for part of 2020, the IFPO still had 8,550 pantry visits, and assisted 31,000 people. In 2021, our unofficial report shows that we had more than 17,000 pantry visits which reached more than 63,500 people! Fully 46% of the people we now impact are children.
Between 2019 and 2022, the number of neighbors who visited the IFPO in an average week swelled by 50%. In 2022, we assisted more than 525 clients and their families each pantry week, a 22% increase over the 2021 weekly average. We are on-track for over 20,000 pantry visits in 2022. This is at least 3,000 more visits than in 2021!
Impact of Covid-19
The IFPO began operating in alternative space in Orange in the late spring of 2020, as our historic space was no longer available and we needed a site where social distancing was possible. In the spring of 2020, when the Oranges were hit very hard with COVID cases, our volunteers delivered food and diapers directly to significant numbers of IFPO clients. During the summer of 2020, we transitioned to an appointment-based food pickup service for registered, existing IFPO clients. By the fall, we were operating both a walk-up and car line system of pre-packaged bags and produce boxes as well as a very small delivery system for our most vulnerable clients.
Throughout this entire time, IFPO leadership has worked closely with the Community FoodBank of NJ to also bring tens of thousands of pounds of perishable and non-perishable food directly to the City of Orange and East Orange Township for their distribution to residents in need.
Click here to read the IFPO Report on Pandemic Operations from March 2021.
Among the highlights, the IFPO has:
Doubled the number of diapers offered to babies in our Diaper Program, offering a full case of diapers, wipes and ointment monthly.
Purchased high quality produce because we are committed to providing these essential healthy items
Expanded our toiletry program to include toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and masks, along with our traditional distribution items including soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, and more.
The IFPO began operating as a client choice pantry several years ago, offering clients more of a grocery store experience, to select their own food, rather than receiving a pre-packaged bag of groceries. This process encourages healthy choices, offering fresh fruit and vegetables weekly, while also serving clients with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, we had to suspend this model and institute pre-packaged distributions during the pandemic in order to limit the handling of food. We hope to be able to offer full client choice in the future.
The IFPO is one of a few area pantries that offers a Diaper Program to assist new parents. Before the pandemic, we distributed more than 13,000 diapers, wipes and diaper cream monthly. In 2021, we served 242 babies each month (vs. 200 in 2020). We distributed over 326,000 diapers, wipes and ointment, essentials not readily available from other sources, in 2021. On average, we served 242 babies each month (vs. 200 in 2020). By September, 2022, we were serving over 300 registered babies a month from Orange, East Orange and West Orange.
The IFPO participated in four phases of "Food, Health & Hope: An Answer to Diabetes" sponsored by Summit Health Cares (formerly called Summit Medical Group Foundation) and the Community FoodBank of NJ. In 2019-2020, 63 pantry clients received extra healthy food and produce as well as nutrition education twice a month, wellness calls reminding clients of FHH program goals and education principles and COVID-19 related education. Despite the challenges of Covid during 2021, a cohort of Phase 3 clients received bi-monthly diabetes friendly food and produce, as well as limited socially distanced nutrition education; A1C levels have dropped across all participating pantries. In Phase 4 of this life-changing program, clients received monthly nutrition education at the IFPO site in addition to bi-monthly diabetes friendly food and produce. Eighty clients are now registered for Phase 5 of this program, which began in October, 2022, receiving monthly diabetes friendly food, produce and nutrition education. They will learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices, about appropriate portion control, how to shop for healthier foods, how to make diabetes-friendly recipes at home, and about the importance of exercise in managing their health.
The IFPO is a member of MEND, Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity, an interfaith hunger-relief network of more than 20 Essex County food pantries (click here for a list of all MEND pantries). The IFPO serves the most clients of all participating pantries in MEND’s anti-hunger network. The IFPO is also a proud partner of the Community Food Bank of NJ.
For the most up-to-date information about our activities, distributions and local partners, visit our Facebook Page.