Montclair coalition tackles food-access issue
By LINDA MOSS
Coming up on the second anniversary of the Pathmark at Lackawanna Plaza closing, a coalition of Montclair organizations is exploring ways to help local senior citizens, as well as others impacted by the supermarket’s demise, get access to food.
The group, which met last week, is looking to proactively get the word out about new food options, like the Crane Park Market, as well as inform residents about the larger assortment of grocery items at places like the CVS on Claremont Avenue and the Shell gas station on Bloomfield Avenue.
The group also seeks to promote the township’s senior-bus service, which stops at the Acme on Valley Road and the Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield. Other initiatives include adding more community gardens, with one potential location being Nishuane Park; setting up pop-up stores; instructing seniors how to purchase groceries online; and finding financial assistance to offset the cost of ordering food and other goods online.
William Scott, chairman of the housing committee of the Montclair NAACP branch, is helping to organize the effort to find interim methods for residents — particularly the elderly and the disabled — to buy groceries until a new supermarket is built to replace the Pathmark, which closed in November 2015.
A large grocery store will be built at Lackawanna Plaza as part of a proposed redevelopment plan that is under review by the Township Council. But it will be several years until that supermarket — envisioned as an anchor for the mixed-use project — is built. Developers have talked to ShopRite as a possible tenant.
The participants in last week’s meeting, held at the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp. office on Bloomfield Avenue, included Scott and Al Pelham, president of the Montclair NAACP; Israel Cronk, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District; Katie York, director of township senior services/Lifelong Montclair; Deirdre Malloy, property and compliance manager for Homes of Montclair Ecumenical Corp., or HOMECorp; and Harold Simon, executive director of the National Housing Institute, which is based in Montclair.
At the session attendees discussed both short- and long-term solutions in terms of making food available to those impacted by Pathmark’s closing, according to Scott.
“We had a lot on the table,” he said. “Overall it was a positive meeting. We know there is a lot of work to be done moving forward, but we have to take this in steps, baby steps maybe, to really get a better handle on the long-term solution. ... And we’ve got to put as many options on the table as we can to address the issue short-term.”
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville was also invited to the meeting, where she gave participants an update on a report that the council’s Economic Development Committee gave last week to the Township Planning Board on the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan, according to Scott. Baskerville is a member of the EDC.
Scott’s agenda last week included a mission statement saying that community groups, representing a cross section of the township, were being called together “to create a coalition who will work on a solution to aid the residents who have been affected by the closure of the Pathmark supermarket,” and adding, “by building this coalition of organizations we will work on addressing this major problem in our community.”
Scott said that at the meeting the organizations agreed to pool their resources in order to collect data, information that is either already available or could be solicited, so they will have accurate information about the Montclair community’s shopping needs and habits.
“Something that really came out as very important is we need to acquire more data, data that indicates how residents are being affected by the closure of the Pathmark supermarket, and what might be some of their concerns or needs moving forward,” Scott said. “I think that it’s critical because we can say what we need, but we need to make sure it’s based on some facts.”
Several attendees said that they had such data, and would be providing it, according to Scott. York is helping out by sharing a U.S. Department of Agriculture food-access map for Montclair, and said she has a public-health intern from Montclair State University who will be compiling an inventory of food providers within a quarter mile, a half mile and one mile of Lackawanna Plaza.
York added that the township is also trying to get funding to develop a food-access map with the Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services at MSU.
“We’re trying to get that information to see if the perception matches the reality,” York said. “But either way, even if they don’t match, the perception is what people’s reality is.”
The coalition also aims to step up the distribution of information about services, such as township buses and online shopping, as a means to get groceries.
SPREADING THE WORD
“We’re going to do a better job getting the information out,” Scott said. “But obviously the short-term solutions will never replace a supermarket. We’re trying our best to address the needs and give people the opportunity to acquire food in many different ways. I don’t think we’ve heard of anyone starving to death in their apartment. ... There are positive things being done and people aren’t just being left out there to fend for themselves, specifically the seniors and people with disabilities.”
The township senior center at Edgemont Memorial Park on Monday held a training session, for senior citizens and volunteers who assist seniors, on how to use the ShopRite From Home online ordering system. About a dozen people, including Scott, attended the session, which was given by Susan Kosinski, assistant store manager of customer service for the Brookdale ShopRite; Toni Metsopulos, a department manager there; and Andrew Catala, assistant store manager of customer service for the Newark ShopRite.
The trio demonstrated step-by-step how to set up an account and order groceries, and answered inquiries about the process. Asked about the price to use the service, Metsopulos said it was $10 per order, with an additional $5.95 delivery fee. There is also the option of picking up online-ordered groceries at the store, eliminating the delivery fee.
“There is a cost associated with that [online grocery shopping], but it’s a minimal cost, and we addressed that, too,” Scott said. “There might be individuals out there who can’t afford the cost to have the delivery, but there is the opportunity to find funding or donations from some of the local groups.”
The coalition will be checking to see if groups such as the NAACP, local clergy associations, the Montclair Rotary Club and the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation would be willing to offset the cost of the online deliveries, according to Scott. And he also pointed out there are more online options for food shopping than just ShopRite, such as Peapod, that people need to be made aware of.
York said that residents at some senior housing communities are combining their grocery orders so they can share the added fees when they buy food online, reducing their individual cost.
The township is also partnering with two nonprofits, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest New Jersey and Care at Home NJ, that help homebound seniors by either picking up their groceries for them or helping them to shop online at home, York said.
Since the Pathmark shut its doors there are new food options, but people need to be informed about them, Scott said. For example, the BID started a farmers’ market at Crane Park, which is also now the site of a community garden. Residents also need to be informed that the Claremont CVS and the Shell station have expanded their food offerings, Scott said, although it is clear they still can’t supply the array of items such as fresh vegetables and meat that a traditional grocery store can.
York added that she is promoting the mobile farm stands throughout town.
Last week’s meeting attendees also discussed creating pop-up markets at various locations to sell food, said Scott, “but that hasn’t been fleshed out that well.”
Scott said that he has also asked the Montclair Civil Rights Commission to participate in the coalition.
“The issue of a lack of a supermarket has been discussed at prior Civil Rights Commission meetings,” said Joseph Kavesh, the commission’s chair. “The Civil Rights Commission shares the concerns expressed by many residents with respect to the current lack of a supermarket at Lackawanna Plaza. Some have referred to this as a ‘food desert.’ While I do not personally agree with that particular characterization, it is inarguable that food access is a basic fundamental right.”
Kavesh added that the commission is reaching out to “the relevant developers,” who are Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, “and will work with other residents and stakeholders, including Mr. Scott’s coalition, as warranted and where appropriate.”