Harvest Home Foods: NJ Food Pantry Serving Sussex County for 20 Years

June 19, 2019

If you’re reading this, you probably have an idea of what we do here at SCARC. That is, you know we provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities, such as our day-habilitation program and our supported employment program. But what you may not know is that, as part of our day-habilitation program, we operate two food pantries that are staffed almost entirely by the individuals we serve, each of whom gives his or her time on a volunteer basis. Helping hundreds of families right here in Sussex County each year, Harvest Home Foods is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

From Busy to Useful

The brainchild of Dr. Richard Lecher, our longtime CEO, Harvest Home Foods is a dual-purpose venture that was developed in order to give the individuals we serve the opportunity to do something meaningful. At the same time, it benefits our community by giving disadvantaged local residents access to nutritious foods. The result is a wonderful symbiosis that has given both the community and the individuals SCARC serves more than we could have ever anticipated.

The idea for Harvest Home Foods came to Dr. Lecher in the late ‘90s. At the time, our day program, and many others like it, provided people with developmental disabilities with a place in which to learn, grow, and build relationships. However, beginning in the ‘70s and continuing through the ‘90s, all of these programs offered the same activities to their clients: ceramics, cooking, and personal-care training. But while personal care is important, and leisure activities can help to keep the individuals we serve active and engaged, Dr. Lecher wanted to do something other than simply fill their lives with busywork. He envisioned a component to our evolving day-habilitation program that would be much more meaningful to the individuals we serve, nurturing their hearts and minds and allowing them to feel useful in addition to helping them stay active.

food pantry njHow It Began

Reasoning that “everyone needs food,” Dr. Lecher reached out to NORWESCAP, which operates a large food bank that serves Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren Counties. He established a relationship with the organization and, using the money that had been previously set aside for the ceramics program, set up Harvest Home Foods’ first food pantry location in Hampton Township in 1999.

Since its inception, Harvest Home Foods has become a key food-distribution point for Sussex County families. The program, which now has a second location in Hamburg, continues to be staffed primarily by the individuals we serve. Each week, with the help of SCARC employees, the Harvest Home Foods volunteers drive to NORWESCAP’s food bank and purchase all sorts of healthy, nutritious foods in bulk (at a rate of 14 cents per pound), then bring it back to our food pantries. Our food pantry is supported by donations from individuals, organizations, and community partners, such as ShopRite Partners in Caring, one of the largest contributors to Harvest Home Foods, which raises many thousands each year that we use to buy discounted food for our NJ food pantry.

Serving Sussex County for 20 Years

Once the food has been purchased and brought back to our pantries, Harvest Home Foods volunteers organize, package, and distribute the items, which include both perishable and nonperishable foods. Many families come directly to the food pantry to pick up their food, while others who can’t or don’t drive are eligible for food delivery. In addition to private residences, Harvest Home Volunteers also deliver food to senior centers. Today, the program serves nearly 400 households every year!

new jersey food pantryA Symbiotic Relationship

Harvest Home Foods offers obvious benefits both to the individuals we serve who volunteer for the program and to the residents who receive food. The individuals who volunteer for Harvest Home Foods get the opportunity to participate in a truly meaningful endeavor that makes a tremendous impact on their community while also helping them develop vocational and social skills. The obvious benefit for the Sussex County residents is that they receive much-needed nutritious food, which helps to stabilize these individuals and families while their reducing stress and improving their overall health.

Look closer, though, and you’ll see that Harvest Home Foods has benefited both groups in other ways, too. The vast majority of the time, the individuals we serve only interact with their day-habilitation program peers and their families. But volunteering at Harvest Home Foods gives them a rare opportunity to connect with others outside of these small circles. They develop new social skills, interacting and building relationships with people in our community who they may not have ever otherwise met. The benefits to this are enormous.

The Power of Giving

At the same time, the individuals and families who receive food have the opportunity to be “givers” rather than “receivers.” Many of those served by our NJ food pantry receive multiple community supports and are accustomed to being on the receiving end of services. But when they visit Harvest Home Foods and establish relationships with our volunteers, they get to provide our volunteers with valuable insights into social expectations, help them practice new skills, and expose them to new situations, personalities, and backgrounds. For those visiting the food pantry, you need only observe their interactions with our volunteers to see how these relationships are uplifting and empowering for both groups.

This wonderful component of our day-habilitation program is largely dependent on community support to operate, so we encourage you to support ShopRite’s Partners in Caring events and/or make a donation to SCARC in support of Harvest Home Foods. While they’re essential throughout the year, our food pantries are especially critical for food-unstable families in the summer months, when their children are unable to access free breakfast and lunch programs at school. If you have questions about Harvest Home Foods or would like to donate food items, please contact Dr. Lecher at 973-383-7442.