Scouts and Rotary help township’s food pantry

NUTLEY, NJ — The annual food collection drive, “Scouting for Food,” conducted by Nutley Cub Pack 141 and Boy Scouts Troop 147 took place the weekend of March 19 in conjunction with the Nutley Rotary Club. The Scouts hope, after all donations are received, they will have collected more food than in years past.

The collection will benefit the Nutley Food Pantry, still located in the American Red Cross building, but with a few new faces. The building was vacated by the American Red Cross in December, and now the food pantry is being run by the volunteers and staff members from the Nutley Family Service Bureau.

The food pantry at the Red Cross building in Nutley is one of the largest in Essex County. This year, the Scouts collected 17,430 items, the most ever, according to former Commissioner Walt Smith, Pack 141 chairman and chairman of the project.

“This is always an exhausting day, but a great way to teach the Scouts, especially the young Cub Scouts, the meaning of helping others,” Smith said in a recent press release.

The campaign was launched on “Bag Distribution Day,” the weekend of March 12, when Scouts distributed empty collection bags to residences in Nutley. The Scouts returned to residences on the following week, “Bag Collection Day,” to retrieve the bags which hopefully would be filled with donated non-perishable items. They also spent time in front of the Nutley ShopRite collecting donations from shoppers. Trader Joe’s in Clifton donated the bags for use in the drive.

Within 48 hours of the Scouts’ pickup, the donations will be on pantry shelves on Chestnut Street ready to feed the needy.

“We’ve been doing the drive in Nutley for the past 10 years,” Smith said in a recent phone interview with the Nutley Journal. “We work very hard to increase the numbers every year. This year, we collected 15,864 items in one day, and there will still be more items coming in throughout the week.”

Smith said that the drive has steadily gained popularity and it shows in the increasing numbers of food they are collecting for the food pantry each year.

“I first got involved around 2007, and we collected 1,100 items, and then by the time we got to 2014 we had collected 13,000 items. There’s a huge increase every year,” he said. “Scouts used to come in with one or two bags from their own homes only, and now they are coming in with 30 and 40 bags because they are asking their neighbors and others in the community to donate to the cause.

“It’s a good lesson for the Scouts to be involved with this project, because it helps them to understand that there are people right in their own town who are in need,” Smith continued. “Most of them understand why we are doing it and they take pride in helping others, and that’s the biggest thing of all.”

Pranav Kumar, a 12-year-old member of Troop 147, is a first-time participant with the food drive. He was excited about the prospect of giving back to his community.

“I like that we’re doing this because it’s a good community-service opportunity, and for a good cause — so that the people in need in our town are able to feed their families,” he said.

The Nutley Family Service Bureau is also excited about the food-collection drive, and the fact that the annual project was able to continue seamlessly despite the change in management at the food pantry.

“We are so grateful to have this communication and partnership, and Walt Smith is really the spearhead through the Rotary Club and we hope to continue the collaboration,” said Caitlin Peterson, who is the community outreach coordinator for the Nutley Family Service Bureau.

“We will pick out the food that is expired and then once we get things separated by commodity, we will get things organized in the pantry and each week we will have volunteers pack up food for our participants,” she said. “Nutley is a magical town because there is a tremendous amount of giving and support. People voluntarily offer when there is a need, the community is so responsive. That’s the basis of the Nutley Family Service Bureau mission, to respond to the needs of the community.”

Peterson said that the pantry will be operated by volunteers through the Nutley Family Service Bureau, and that they have volunteers from the Police Department, high schools, and senior buildings who come in on a weekly basis. They also partner with additional groups and organizations for special projects.

“We are right next door to the American Red Cross building, and we were very fortunate. We were able to take over the pantry right away, and that was really because of the commitment of the volunteers already in there,” she said. “We thought that as a mental-health agency, it would be important for the Nutley Family Service Bureau to take this on.

“Beyond the pantry, we see our capacity as being much greater than giving food. We’re excited about really connecting our social-justice mission, and this is an exciting time because this building allows us to create something that we never had before and bring in all of the other organizations and really give them a platform for volunteering.”