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Rotary Members Help Food Pantry With New Home

Frank Mangravite explains how working together has brought about a new Interfaith Food Pantry building.

After hearing Rosemary Gilmartin, the Interfaith Food Pantry's executive director, speak about the challenges facing her organization at one of the Morris Plains Rotary Club meeting in 2008, Morris Plains Rotary Club member and felt called to act.

After three years of rallying Morris area Rotary Club members, Mangravite is seeing the goal of building a new food pantry building, located on Executive Drive on the former Greystone grounds, come to fruition.

"From a social services perspective, hunger is, I believe, the most loosely managed of all social services," Mangravite said. "While state and county governments can and do provide aid or facilities to food pantries, they rarely coordinate their activities. There is great potential to do more."

Gilmartin explained that the IFP's current facility, the basement of the former Morris View Nursing Home building at the county complex on Hanover Avenue, was no longer adequate for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of storage
  • Lack of freezer/refrigerator/cooler space. Portable freezer trucks were needed for the more-than 1,000 holiday turkeys the IFP distributes.
  • Lack of a waiting room left families and individuals often out in the rain and snow. 
  • Lack of office/administrative space to interview and qualify applicants in a confidential setting.
  • The pressure of increasing need due to the recession. In 2010, the IFP distributed 727,133 pounds of food to 4,841 households and 11,583 persons.

In early 2008, at the Rotary District's Rotary Foundation Ball at the Parsippany Hilton, Mangravite was standing in the hall with the presidents and their spouses of the 55 Rotary clubs in this Rotary District. 

"I decided to see if I could get multiple clubs interested in supporting the IFP's capital campaign collectively," he said. "A few clubs, particularly the Whippany Rotary Club had been a strong supporter of the IFP for some time. Others supported smaller local food pantries or had not heard of the IFP."

Mangravite said of the 26 clubs he reached out to, 15 to 20 have responded generously to his call.

"Gaining the support of other Rotary Clubs has been both better than I expected and harder than I expected," said Mangravite. "After all, the commitment of $80,000 over three years was made by the initial committee of Rotary clubs without a single club having such a donation in their budget."

Mangravite said the effort has not been without challenges. Despite competing needs that each rotary club faces, every year rotary clubs elect new officers and develop new budgets. 

"So working with 20 clubs for three years means working with up to 60 presidents," he said.

In spite of these obstacles, Mangravite listed the accomplishments the clubs have achieved:

  •  $80,000 from the participating Rotary clubs and their members.
  •  $150,000 from an anonymous client of a Rotary member.
  •  A 9 foot by 9 foot walk-in freezer and a 9 foot by 9 foot walk-in cooler donated by the son of a Rotary member.
  • Several thousand dollars in contributions from churches and other organizations supported by Rotarians whose donations were made separately.

"Much food is donated during the holidays rather than uniformly during the year," Mangravite explained. "The food donated may not be what is needed to provide healthy diets. The lack of first class facilities can result in a stigma that mostly the homeless use food pantries, when, in fact, many other residents could benefit from and deserve aid.

"In Morris County, hunger is more often a choice between a healthy meal and paying the rent or mortgage. When people lose their home, they lose all their equity and enter a lifestyle that can be very hard to lift themselves back out of to the level of ever owning a home again."

The new building is being built to be as green as possible using solar energy, recycled building materials and furnishings and many energy efficient features, according the IFP's website.

"From a service club perspective, this project has shown that local service organizations like Rotary can work as team to address larger scale local needs than any one club can address," Mangravite said. "This is very exciting. I hope other multi-club projects get started."

Important Dates

Drawing of the winner of the IFP 50/50 raffle run by the Rotary and IFP will take place on the morning of Friday, Oct. 28 at the Morris Plains Rotary Club meeting at .

Mangravite said the ribbon cutting for the new facility will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 1 to 2 p.m.

"The Interfaith Food Pantry's dedicated, experienced management and over 200 volunteers along with their new first-class facility will go a long way to improving this county's level of service to those in need of food and other assistance," Mangravite said.

For more information about the IFP, visit: http://www.mcifp.org/

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