Beloved Montclair figure Deanna London is widely known for both her compassion and toughness. She talked with Baristanet today after announcing that she’ll be leaving the Human Needs Food Pantry in six months. She has been the executive director there since 1987.
Q: What’s the best thing that ever happened at the pantry?
A: Anytime a client comes to me and says they got a job–that’s my happiest moment. And when we have enough turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your tenure as executive director?
A: Nobody does this alone. If not for the volunteers, and all those who give us food, deliver food, the media, and those who support us monetarily— this just wouldn’t happen. I’m just the captain of the ship; they are ones who really run it. We’re fortunate to live in a community like this–Montclair, Glen Ridge and all the other towns that support us.
We don’t get monetary contributions from any federal, state, local or county offices. We get food from the USDA and a state-funded purchase program. But all the money comes from individuals and foundations.
Q: Are there any groups in particular you want to thank?
A: We’ve had wonderful support from Shoprite in Bloomfield, Kings in Upper Montclair and Verona, Gencarelli’s, and Pathmark and Panera in Montclair.
Q: Can kids volunteer at the food pantry?
A: We get a lot of calls from kids who want to help. We have a summer program, but you have to be 14. There are other things you can do. Arrange with your parents to run a food drive on your block or in your school. And kids can come with their parents any Tuesday or Thursday from 8:30-noon to drop off food.
Q: Have you noticed any changes recently in your clientele?
A: We’re getting more and more Montclair people who are unemployed or underemployed. Our largest group now is senior citizens. It makes me so sad. These people worked their whole lives. But if you’re getting $900 a month social security and the rent is $800, it’s not possible to survive without help.
Q: Why are you leaving now?
A: Twenty-five is a big mark. It was time. I’m nearly 68. New people will come in with new ideas. They will enhance the work here. We’re all replaceable.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m leaving to pursue other interests. I’m hoping to work two days a week. Somewhere maybe someone will want me. I hope so.
Q: Anything else you want to say?
A: Yes. We’re accepting Thanksgiving food starting now. Drop-off your frozen turkeys November 18-20th from 8:30-noon. I need at least 550 turkeys, the same as last year. You gotta be one step ahead.
At the end of the interview, London shared a list she wrote recently, called Things I learned from working for 25 years:
- Work is hard.
- There’s a lot of drama in getting a bag of groceries ready.
- Seeing someone cry in the office because they’re mortified that they had to come to the food pantry breaks your heart.
- Whoever said “Life is just a bowl of cherries,” is just plain wrong.
- We are judged–whether we like it or not.
- Be nice to everyone, you never know who is walking in the door.
- Some people are just not nice and there’s nothing you can do about it. Be nice to them anyway.
- If your children see you supporting a charity, chances are they will, too.
- Sometimes the old fashioned way of doing something is better than computers.
- Thank you notes really do matter, especially to children.
- Turkeys always seem to make their way to the pantry, so don’t worry about them.
- When your child is proud of the work you do, you know you’ve done your job.