Janet Schwamm has been volunteering at the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges for the past 16 years. A longtime member of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, in South Orange, N.J., Schwamm’s personal passion has inspired a synagogue-wide social action initiative that spans seasons and generations.
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
432 Scotland Road
South Orange, NJ 07079
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Release Date: Friday, February 14, 2014
Media Contact: Caryl Bixon-Gordon (201) 796-7788
One Member’s Passion Inspires Entire Synagogue Community to Help Feed the Hungry through The Interfaith Food Panty of The Oranges
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., Feb. 14, 2014 – Janet Schwamm, a member of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI), has been volunteering at the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges for the past 16 years. Her personal passion for giving back first evolved into a community outreach program for the temple’s Women’s Connection group, and has since expanded to a synagogue-wide social action initiative that spans seasons and generations. The entire TSTI community, from preschool and religious school students to older members, works year-round to keep the pantry stocked and serving its clients.
The Interfaith Food Pantry (IFPO) is a volunteer-staffed collaborative effort by four houses of worship in South Orange and Short Hills: TSTI, Congregation Beth-El, Christ Church of Short Hills and Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Housed and run out of the Church of the Epiphany, IFPO provides supplemental and emergency food to low-income residents of Orange and East Orange three or four Wednesdays a month.
“Just three miles away from TSTI there is such a tremendous need, and everyone wants to help,” said Schwamm, who lives in Short Hills and is the IFPO’s volunteer coordinator. Each month she enlists 10 to15 synagogue members to cover the temple’s assigned day, the last Wednesday of the month. It takes about two hours for the volunteers to pack and distribute groceries for upwards of 120 families each week that IFPO is open.
“TSTI’s day is often the busiest, since many clients run out of food stamps or the money to pay for groceries towards the end of the month,” said Schwamm.
Social Action for All Seasons, All Ages
The spark to involve the entire synagogue was ignited after Rabbi Ellie Miller of TSTI accompanied Schwamm on a visit to the pantry. Miller saw the potential for a multi-generational social action initiative that would empower members to help their less fortunate neighbors. The temple’s volunteers are deeply committed: Retirees, adults and older teens pick up the bread donated by several local bakeries and sort and bag it at the food pantry; younger members help with bagging and distribution. Some parents bring their children late to school on the days they volunteer, and several students have stayed active with the pantry through college. The minimum age to volunteer at IFPO is four years old.
TSTI supports the pantry twelve months of the year in its mission to feed all who come through its doors. Demand increased in 2013, and IFPO Manager Diane Stein, also of Short Hills, said the pantry relies heavily on monetary and product donations to ensure there is enough to meet the ongoing need. “We are seeing many more people come for assistance, including more military veterans and the elderly,” she said, adding that current demand is double or triple what it had been in prior years.
Preschool and religious school students collect canned goods and other non-perishables for the pantry throughout the school year, and many volunteer with their families and teachers during school breaks. The synagogue encourages all members to bring donations to weekly services, including in-demand items such as peanut butter, jelly, tomato sauce, tuna and cereal, as well as canned fruits, vegetables, soups and pasta.
In addition, TSTI teens in grades 9-12 are members of IFPO’s Teen Board, which is comprised of students from religious organizations and high schools throughout the area. They fundraise, run food drives and help out at the pantry. “It’s wonderful to see people of all faiths working together to improve the plight of people with food insecurity,” said Schwamm.