Most mornings are busy at the Montclair Human Needs Food Pantry, and yesterday was no exception. At about 10 a.m., volunteers were sorting the recently delivered groceries and packing bags of food for people to pick them up at Noon.
Overseeing the packing and greeting volunteers as they walked in was Deanna London, executive director of the food pantry. London has been at the food pantry for nearly a quarter century, but in the coming months she is calling it quits.
London said she was nearly getting tired of talking about her retirement, "I really didn’t think anybody was going to take any notice of it." She was more interested in talking about the pantry, than her retirement.
But the volunteers at the pantry did not shy away from what London has contributed to the pantry over the years.
“She is a special gal,” said Bill Treene, who has worked at the pantry since 1995. “There are very few people who care about the clients as much as she does.
“She is an exceptional person as far as how she conducts herself with the staff. She will be a hard person to replace. You can replace pieces of that, but I don’t think all of it very easily.”
London is a Glen Ridge resident whose 32nd wedding anniversary is Friday. She took over as executive director of the pantry about 15 years ago.
London worked in public service related jobs before she had her only son, who is now 29. After taking a leave of absence from work to raise her son, she said that she became too restless at home when he entered kindergarten.
“I’m not a person to stay home,” said London. “I love a clean house ... but I would rather be out there in the world doing something. I like to communicate with people.”
She began looking for volunteer work and landed at the pantry in the late 1980s,“The years just went on, and here I am 25 years later."
Looking back on her years at the pantry, London said there were two things that stand out, “I am always happiest when somebody comes to me and says they are not coming to the pantry anymore because they got a job.”
She added that she is “happy when somebody comes who has really been struggling, and finally got the inner strength to walk in the door and say they need help. You know, it is very hard for people to do this.”
This will be last Thanksgiving and holiday season at the pantry for London. The pantry is already gearing up for the holiday rush. In the month of September alone, the pantry served approximately 2,500 people.
London will step down from the pantry at the end of March. But she said that she is not going to sit idly by, put her feet up or retire to Florida. She wants to find another job, and joked she will soon have to dust off her resume.
But London said she will never forget the time she spent working at the food pantry.
“I always thought that I got more out of it,” London said, “because there is something fabulous to being able to help somebody. In my culture there is a saying that if you save one person you’ve saved the world. It’s true."
The Montclair Human Needs Food Pantry, located at 9 Label St., is always looking for food donations. Frozen turkeys and holiday food will be accepted Nov. 18-20 between 8:30 a.m. and noon.
For more information, call the pantry at (973) 746-4669.