‘A wake-up call’: Morris County volunteers find high demand for food donations
RANDOLPH — Isabel Loaiaza was behind the wheel of her Toyota minivan Wednesday morning outside the Morris Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Salem Street, patiently waiting for service in a long line of vehicles wrapped around the building.
She and her friends did not come to shop for discount furniture in the nonprofit retail store. They were there to put food on their tables. They were on line for the latest in a series of food-distribution events arriving via the Morristown-based Table of Hope and its Mobile Food Pantry bus.
“I’m out of work,” Loaiaza said, then pointed to her friends, from Morristown and Dover, respectively. “He’s out of work. She has a daughter she needs to take care of, so she can’t work.”
Theresa Williams, executive director of Table of Hope, said the the group was prepared to stock the pantries of up to 250 families with food staples like bread, eggs and milk, meat and fish, and other essential groceries.
“Everyone is welcome,” she said. “Tomorrow we’ll be in Morristown, and then we’ll be in Parsippany on Friday.”
Her husband, the Rev. Sidney Williams Jr., pastor of Bethel AME Church in Morristown and operator of the Spring Street Community Development Corporation, revved up Table of Hope right after the COVID-19 pandemic started to decimate the economy in March.
The school bus he had purchased to convert to mobile food distribution was quickly deployed to Parsippany, Dover, Morristown, Roxbury and other towns in Morris County, delivering food picked up at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, Table of Hope has delivered more than 220 tons of food to more than 9,000 families.
“It depends on where we go whether we are seeing a decrease or increase in need, but generally, it’s still showing there is a great need,” Theresa Williams said. “The numbers have gone down slightly, but in Morristown they have not.”
Dover Mayor Carolyn Blackman expressed her appreciation for previous Table of Hope distributions in her town, and came to Randolph to volunteer.
“I had a big challenge in my town to make sure everybody had food on their table,” Blackman said. “Table of Hope has stepped up to the plate in every way to help me provide that.”
She joined other volunteers from Table of Hope and their hosts for the day, Morris Habitat for Humanity.
“Reverend Williams is on our board of directors, so we’ve been working with Table of Hope for the past couple of years,” said Blair Schleicher Wilson, CEO of Morris Habitat for Humanity. “They have this overwhelming need for help, and we’ve got a volunteer group and the ability to run logistics. A beautiful marriage really was formed.”
Lisa Strauss of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, traveled nearly an hour to Randolph to pick up food for her sister and brother-in-law in Bergen County. Both of them caught the coronavirus, she said, and her brother-in-law is now in rehab after surviving 47 days on a ventilator.
“We’re all together,” said Strauss, who lost her office job due to the pandemic. “We just hope everything is going to get better, for all of us.”
Libby Bernier-Spiess said she was a volunteer picking up a food supply for a client of Family Promise, another nonprofit serving the homeless population in Morris County.
“This is my first time doing this,” she said.
Randolph Mayor Christine Carey and most of the Township Council also showed up to volunteer.
“This is our third one that I’ve been to in Randolph,” Carey said. “We did one in May at the high school, and two weeks ago there was one at County College of Morris. People are challenged more than usual.”
“This needs to be a wake-up call to everybody in Morris County,” said another volunteer, District 25 Sen. Anthony Bucco. “While we pride ourselves on being a relatively affluent county, there are many, many folks that are struggling, that are living day-to-day. Today shows that without any doubt.”
Food-security issues related to the pandemic continue to show up in unexpected places, including Bergen County, where Ridgewood YMCA CEO Ernest Lamour launched a weekly food-distribution program that started with about two dozen families.
The Ridgewood Y program now provides groceries from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to more than 200 families in need, by pickup appointment, on Wednesdays.
“It definitely exists,” Lamour said. “You’re starting to see a lot more of that within communities like Ridgewood. I knew there was a need even prior to the pandemic. This has been going on for quite some time. The pandemic has just taken it to the next level.”
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