Community Spotlight: Rockaway Food Closet Brings New Meaning to the “Give” In Thanksgiving

 In the back of Rockaway’s First Presbysterian Church, volunteers prepare and bag food items for the Thanksgiving season. The building’s auditorium stage houses boxes of canned vegetables, soups, stuffing, gravy, instant potatoes, etc. The space can barely contain the love and donations community members share for the annual Thanksgiving collection. Director Linda Kirby stated that the pantry served approximately 120 families for the holiday this year. Although donations are of great importance to the function of this major holiday collection, the behind-the-scenes work of volunteers could be considered of the utmost importance. The first day entails the separation of items into categories of grains, vegetables, fruit and so on. The second day of preparation involves officially bagging the products. During the holiday season, it is likely that volunteers will see familiar faces as families and individuals of all ages gather each year to donate their time to sorting, bagging and distributing the bags of non-perishable items.

First formed in 1984, the Rockaway Food Closet has been a functioning town service for many years. On a normal day, most food donations would be located in the storage closet. Yes, a closet. Food as well as toiletries are collected on a daily basis to assist Rockaway citizens. Loyal volunteers give their time all-year round, as often as they can. For some volunteers, this act of kindness holds great resonance for them, as they do not only sympathize with those in need but have empathy. A local mother in Rockaway reflected on why she values giving back to her community through the Rockaway Food Closet. 

“When suffering from an economic downturn after a divorce, I could not accept that I needed help myself. I spent several weeks encouraging members of my current church community to donate food to a local pantry. While I was collecting food for others, I did not give consideration to how dire my own situation had become,” she explained. 

“The director advised me to take my own bags. This shocked me because I did not consider that my own children would not have a Thanksgiving dinner, but whatever I could afford to put together.”

Reluctantly, she took the generosity given. “I told myself I would never forget that anyone is susceptible to becoming a person in need.”

It is sometimes easy to forget that financial difficulties, to the point of struggling to eat, can affect anyone at any time. The Food Closet is an essential outlet for struggling families in the town. Whether they need short-term or long-term aid, the volunteers ensure that confidentiality is kept. This encourages and allows people to receive assistance so that the ability to eat is the least of their worries as they recover from financial and domestic conflict. During Thanksgiving, when it is tradition to share a meal of communion with loved ones, the Food Closet gives people the resources to join in the festivities as any family should. 

Feeding the less fortunate is a too simple a phrase to describe the great impact pantry volunteers  have on their community. There is a lesson to be learned from the determined volunteers of the Rockaway Borough Food Closet. Volunteering is not a thing of the past. It is not a waste of time. Because as any volunteer would say, knowing that they helped their neighbor partake in a celebration of family, communion and togetherness, is the greatest joy of all.