Church takes over as New Windsor&amp#8217;s food pantry

NEW WINDSOR – Sorting and shuffling cans and jars, Pastor Anthony Mugnano unpacked food from boxes in the hall of Encounter Church. In a couple of weeks, the building on a historic site will be the new home of the town’s food pantry.

Previously housed and run by the town’s Recreation Department, the food pantry, which is entirely funded through donations, has outgrown the space – families being served have increased from a handful to nearly 100 over the past decades.

Mugnano felt “super excited” when Matt Veroneisi, director of parks and recreation, asked if he was interested in taking over.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be trusted and given a chance to serve the community,” Mugnano said. “It’s a blessing that we can help people regardless of religion.”

The new food pantry will start on Feb. 21 and occur on a monthly basis. The town will continue to purchase and transport food to the church located at 647 Station Road in Rock Tavern. Veroneisi said last year the town received donations of about $10,500 from individuals and local businesses.

Town Supervisor George Meyers said the church is capable of helping more people, and the town will support them if needed.

“The church will probably do a better job than we did because they’re more attuned to people who are in need. Church is a good spot to provide help,” Meyers said.

Born and raised in Newburgh, Mugnano said he always wants to help people, especially after his business went through a bankruptcy and he moved back to the area. He started a church in his living room and then established the non-denominational Encounter Church in 2014. During the following two years, he struggled providing for his family while paying off the mortgage.

The original church, built in 1765 and known as Little Britain Presbyterian Church, was one of the five oldest in Orange County. After a fire destroyed the old church, the current building was erected.

“When I first saw the church, I wanted it to feel like a home – a place you can be yourself,” Mugnano said, recalling that at the time he bought the church, it had been abandoned for a long time and many things needed to be repaired.

A renovation followed. All the woodwork and a pipe organ were restored, and all the floors, walls and ceiling were replaced. Under the turret roof, wooden benches were replaced with red chairs, and string lights took the place of a chandelier.

Rather than dressing in a gown, Mugnano preaches in casual outfits on Sundays.

Over the years, members have grown from 7 to 50. For Mugnano, this is the perfect time to grow the service and serve more people. He hopes the place will be the center of the community.

“We’ve seen the worst, but we make it the best,” Mugnano said. “Our heart is to help people through hardship. When they come we can share our story because we have gone through it.”

The food pantry is going to be known as “encounter compassion.” Trustee Leslie Toback explains the meaning is to be compassionate with people, caring about their needs beyond food.

“We hope not to just hand them food, ultimately we want to provide and connect them with more resources,” Toback said.

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