CUMAC says goodbye to long time Development Director

Lynne Bruger, on left, with Leigh Ross at cumac'S HAVE-A-Heart aUCTION

Lynne Bruger, on left, with Leigh Ross at cumac'S HAVE-A-Heart aUCTION

After more than 14 years at the forefront of CUMAC’s efforts to feed people and change lives, Development Director, Lynne Bruger, has announced that she is stepping down from her position with CUMAC and pursuing exciting new opportunities to serve within the nonprofit community.

Lynne originally came on staff in 2002 after many years as a volunteer and has held multiple positions within the agency. During her nine years as development director she has consistently grown fundraising efforts to meet exponential program growth. 

With enthusiasm, a heart to serve our friends in need, and a can-do spirit, Lynne started out as a one-person Development Department: coordinating events, writing and disseminating communications, managing seasonal collections, writing grants and spearheading all other fundraising efforts in support of CUMAC’s mission.  In recent years, she has helped to create and lead a robust development team, which now includes three Community Engagement Coordinators -for events, communications and volunteers- as well as a Major Gifts Officer.  

CUMAC would like to thank Lynne for her many years of service on behalf of the community it serves. Her talent and ability have helped to foster unprecedented growth in the number and breadth of programs CUMAC offers to the community. 

Her compassion for CUMAC’s clients has been a guiding force.  Lynne’s coworkers and colleagues will miss her leadership and creativity, but look forward to her continued involvement as a volunteer and supporter and wish her luck in her new endeavors.  Be sure to keep your eye on CUMAC’s blog as Lynne will be saying goodbye in her own words here shortly. 

Effective January 30, 2017 CUMAC’s current community engagement coordinator volunteers, Stephanie Ames, will be stepping into the role of development director.  Stephanie’s transition comes after 8 years as an active member of the development team and more recent work as a contributor to CUMAC’s four year strategic plan. 

Happy New Year from CUMAC

Happy New Year to all! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season. As we gear up for another exciting year of feeding people & changing lives, we hope you’ll join our team and take action against hunger in 2017.  If you have room for another New Year’s resolution, why not make a commitment to your community? With 1 in 8 New Jersey residents struggling to keep food on the table, your support is needed more than ever.  Here are some fun ways you can make a difference with CUMAC this year...

Compete in the Souper Bowl – CUMAC is holding a special competition this month called the CUMAC Souper Bowl! We will be collecting food and funds every day leading up to the Super Bowl. We will assign individuals and groups to teams, keep track of totals and will announce a winner on Super Bowl weekend! To learn more about the competition or to register your group, visit our official Souper Bowl page. Help us tackle hunger this season and sign up today

Become a Collection Coordinator  CUMAC offers all of the training you'll need to hold a fun and rewarding grocery store food collection.  As a collection coordinator you'll act as a critical link getting food to those who need it most. To learn how you can become a collection coordinator contact our volunteer department at 973-742-5518 or 

Support a CUMAC Event — CUMAC events are a great way to get connected and help contribute to our mission. To start the new year CUMAC is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Have-A-Heart Auction on February 25. Some other events to follow will include a youth night, a young professionals networking event, and of course save the date for Rev. Pat Bruger's retirement celebration on Thursday, April 27. Check out our event page for more details! We always need volunteers and donors to help with events and seasonal programs such as Easter Baskets, School Supplies, and Wishlist. Please contact Jennifer at if you are interested in participating.

Join Team CUMAC – Turn your miles into meals this year! Whether you are running your first race or a lifetime competitor, all runners (and walkers) are welcome to join CUMAC’s race team. Simply register for your event, contact us about your race, and start spreading the word! Encourage friends, co-workers and family members to contribute on your behalf and watch your impact grow. Sign up today.

Hold a collection CUMAC served over 40,000 of our neighbors in need in 2016. Help us do more this year by collecting food and essential items like… 
•    Clothing
•    hygiene products
•    plastic grocery bags
•    small coffee cans
•    egg cartons

CUMAC is especially low on coffee cans, egg cartons and diapers (size 3+) right now. Hold a collection this year to ensure that our pantry and programs can serve all who come our way.  

Become a Virtual Volunteer – If you don’t have chance to volunteer at our facility, why not help CUMAC from home? Did you know that you can earn money for charity by taking a survey with OP4G or shopping online with GoodShop and AmazonSmile? Those are just a few of the fun ways you can help fight hunger as a virtual volunteer. See the full list of opportunities here.  

Hold an event for CUMAC — Can’t make it to one of our events? Hold one of your own! Every year, individuals around our community are finding fun, new ways to fight hunger — from turning birthday parties into food drives to organizing rock concerts, the possibilities are endless with events. Need some inspiration? We can help! Contact our office to learn more. 

Spread the Word —  Hunger affects over 1 million people in New Jersey. Tell your friends, family and co-workers about this silent crisis and how they can get involved. Your voice matters! Get the latest hunger news by signing up for our mailing list, following us on social media, or visiting the CUMAC blog. 

We're looking forward to another year of serving our community and hope you are too. Join the fight against hunger and make 2017 a year to remember! 



A Morning With Bert

Bert has been helping CUMAC feed people & change lives for over three years. As our driver, he travels around the area every day to pick up and distribute food for our neighbors in need. Depending on the time of day, you might see him collecting donations from a food drive at a local business, dropping off items to one of our partner pantries or rescuing food from a local supermarket. Collecting and dropping off so many donations is not an easy job. Bert typically has an assistant helping him on his route. However, this month we were short staffed one day so I volunteered to join him for the morning until more help was available. I’m glad that I did. I thought I’d share some of my experience with all of you. Here’s what a morning with Bert looks like… 

8:00am: Bert arrives at CUMAC. He makes himself a cup of coffee and gets to work. After checking the trucking schedule, he plans out his day and catches up on any unfinished paperwork.

9:00am: After tying up some loose ends, Bert grabs his clipboards and heads for the parking lot. It’s pouring out and the wind is starting to pick up. He hopes the traffic won’t be too bad today. 

9:10am: Our day begins. We hop in the truck and buckle up. Bert turns the key, but the engine is slow to start. After a few seconds, it finally gets going. Bert sighs in relief and turns to me. “If you’re going to do the job, you need the right tools. A truck is number one,” he says.  “We’re going to need a new truck sooner than later” he tells me. “I’ve been taking good care of this one, but every truck has its lifespan. This truck has been on the road for a long time.” Bert quickly checks the truck’s mileage and we hit the road.

9:30am: Despite the weather, the traffic is surprisingly light and we get to BJ’s just in time to secure the final open spot on their loading dock. Bert tells me that it’s important to get to the store early to avoid any lines. He knows that well because BJ’s is a regular supporter of CUMAC, donating food two to three times per week to our pantry. We enter and Bert is greeted with countless smiles and good mornings. After a quick chat with the staff, we’re shown where our food is located. With the help of their team we’re able pack the truck in just a few minutes. We’re off to a great start! As we walk out, we notice three vehicles waiting in line for our spot. Bert smiles. “Good timing” he says.

10:14am: Our truck heads down the road to Trader Joe’s in Paramus, another partner that has been supporting CUMAC for years. Different store, same staff reaction: Bert is greeted with a rush of hugs and handshakes. Bert explains the pick up process and we get right to work, loading the vehicle in a way that will leave us with enough space for the remaining donations. Bert tells me that taking a couple of extra minutes to pack strategically always saves him time in the long run. So we carefully pack box after box, nearly a thousand pounds of fruits and vegetables included. What a workout! 15 minutes later the truck is fully loaded.  We take a quick breather and head out the door. Bert tells me he’s happy for the extra help today. 

It’s crazy to think that years ago much of this perfectly good food would have been thrown away. Fortunately, nowadays more stores are taking action against hunger (and food waste) by donating their extra items to places like CUMAC. Our team and clients are happy about that!

It’s 10:34am, our truck has an abundance of food and the weather is starting to improve. There’s plenty to smile about as we get ready for our next stop. As we hit the road, I joke with Bert that he should run for mayor. Everywhere we go people are thrilled to see him and that’s no surprise. Bert is one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Even on his busiest days, he always has time to ask you about your day or make you laugh. He truly cares about those around him. Picking up donations every day, Bert tells me that many of the staff and donors have become his friends. If Bert takes a day off, he hears about it immediately. “Where were you yesterday?” they’ll ask. “We missed you!” It’s no surprise that he is a favorite for so many. Bert loves coming to work every day and getting the chance to thank and talk to those who make CUMAC’s work possible.

As we head to Wyckoff, Bert and I discuss an array of topics – hobbies, food, and philosophy to name a few. He tells me about his previous work as a service manager in the auto industry and the trucking company he once owned. We also talk about Bert’s family and how his dad would always help those in need in their hometown in Brazil. His father’s kindness toward others has always stayed with him he says. Bert is happy to have a job that allows him to help his community in the same vein. With so many of our neighbors struggling to get the resources they need, Bert hates turning down a pick up and he’ll often jump through hoops if it means someone can be helped. He may have to rearrange his schedule, come in early or stay late, but he always finds a way to get the job done, even with CUMAC down a driver and short on help

10:49am: We arrive at the Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, another incredible partner in our work. A lovely woman named Christine, who is in the middle of packing shoes for needy children in Haiti, takes a break from her project to show us where to go. The church’s shelves are packed with donations. Bert and I take turns running out the items. We load over 40 bags of clothing and hygiene products, as well almost 200 pounds of food!  Before we wrap up, we chat with Christine for a couple of minutes and she tells us about the project she’s working on. We wish her luck and say our goodbyes. One more stop to go. 

Bert unloading truck.jpg

11:14 am: We buckle up and head to Costco. More fun conversation with Bert. He tells me that the next trip is different than the others because we’re not only picking up food for CUMAC, we’re also picking up food for another agency who has trouble getting to Hackensack. Bert makes pick ups like these all the time as part of our depot services. CUMAC’s Depot assists a collection of over 40 agencies in our community by picking up, storing and/or delivering food and other resources for them. With hunger affecting over 1 million NJ residents, our team realized a long time ago that we must work together to help stop food insecurity in our area. The Depot allows us to do that every day. 

11:39am: We arrive at Costco in Hackensack, a store that has been regularly supporting CUMAC for several years, and our food is waiting for us. Their staff surprises us by offering a full pallet of milk. Bert is thrilled with the news and gladly accepts. In order to accept the milk we’ll need to make more space in the truck so we start rearranging the donations to squeeze in another pallet. After a few minutes, the space is clear and the extra pallet slides right in. Bert and I thank their team for the donation and head on our way. We’re making great timing!

As we head closer to CUMAC, Bert turns to me and smiles. “We’re heavy today, my friend. We had a good day.” It takes a second for that to sink in with me. I stop and pay closer attention. The truck was heavy, and now that he mentioned it I could feel all the weight as we cruised closer to our destination. Bert is all smiles because there will be lots of food to share with our clients this afternoon. Next stop: CUMAC. 

12:37pm: We’re finally back at our building. We arrive to the smiling faces of our team. Our parking lot is now full and the warehouse is in full swing. We begin to unload today’s pick up, and with volunteers and staff around to help, the truck is empty in no time.

I head back to the office, but Bert’s day on the road is far from over. Heyward, our Warehouse Assistant, will join him for the afternoon and good thing — Bert has several more stops to make. This afternoon he’ll be picking up items from a few local food drives, and gifts for our Wish List program.

I only spent a few hours on the truck with Bert, but the experience gave me a new found appreciation for what he does every day. It also reminded me of just how much of what CUMAC accomplishes revolves around teamwork. From the groups and businesses donating food to the volunteers unloading our trucks, our community is collaborating in an incredible way. Thank you to BJ’s, Trader Joe’s, Grace UMC, Costco and all our supporters for everything you do to help us keep our community hunger-free.  Last but not least, I’d like to say thank you to Bert for all his hard work and dedication. Through his tireless efforts, CUMAC is reaching more people than ever. We’re truly lucky to have someone like him at the wheel!

It’s amazing what can be achieved when you’re working together. Want to help CUMAC feed people & change lives? Donate today or join our team

Big Things Come In Small Packages

You’re never too young to make a difference. That’s something we learned when we met Maya, a 9-year-old from Glen Rock, NJ, who has a passion for helping others. After realizing that she had more than enough "stuff" in her life, Maya has, with the help of her family, turned her birthday into an opportunity to feed the hungry. For her birthday party this year, Maya asked her friends and family to bring nonperishable food items instead of presents. Together, they collected 158 pounds of food to donate to CUMAC’s pantry programs!

Maya was thrilled to see so much food come in for her hungry neighbors. This marks the third year in a row that she has celebrated her birthday with a special collection for CUMAC and we couldn't be more grateful. She’s even started encouraging her friends at school to do the same. Stories like this remind us that we all have the power to make a difference. No matter how young (or old) you are.

Thank you Maya for feeding people & changing lives with us! Your kindness and generosity continue to blow us away. 

Wish List 2016

Wish List 2016 Collage (Website).jpg

For over two decades, CUMAC’s Wish List program has helped holiday dreams come true for thousands of kids in our community. Through the program, area youth are matched with donors who want to fulfill their holiday wishes. This year, CUMAC will be giving out gifts to over 1,000 children living in shelters or dealing with illness, poverty or other difficulties and we couldn’t be more excited. It’s a huge undertaking, but with the help of our supporters we will ensure that each one of these kids has a reason to smile this holiday season.

This is Jenn Miller’s first time coordinating Wish List and she is having a blast. “I have the best job,” she tells us. “Over the last few weeks, gifts have poured in from baby dolls and bikes to Frozen and Spiderman. I’m beyond pleased that every donor has filled each child’s wish and then some!”

With so many donors and kids to worry about it, Wish List takes countless hours of hard work and collaboration. Constant e-mails, phone calls, scheduling and organizing are necessary to make it all come together. Fortunately, Jenn has had some help this year. One of our all-star volunteers, Kathy, has been with her every step of the way, spending several days each week helping her to prepare, check and pack the presents.  

Several hundred gifts have already been delivered to our partner agencies this month, and we expect hundreds more to go out in the days ahead. Wish List is truly a special program and we’re thrilled for the opportunity to reach so many every holiday season. Thank you to all the donors who are helping bring joy to youth in our community. We couldn’t do it without you! 


Want to help CUMAC feed people & change lives? Volunteer with us or make a donation this holiday season.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Ahhhhh, it is quiet.  The calming, peaceful sound of quiet.  It is 3:30pm on the day before Thanksgiving.  The pantry is closed, cleaned, dark and quiet. Most of the staff has left the building, headed home to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.  It is a well-deserved rest after a frenetic three days of serving food and turkeys to more than 1000 people.  To be exact, 1015 turkeys were given to low-income individuals and more than 750 people received canned goods, produce, bread and other groceries to go with those turkeys.  Thousands and thousands of pounds of food was received in our building, processed and distributed to our clients. All in three short days.  I feel blessed by the quiet.  

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, our food supplies had dwindled to disturbingly low levels. The basement contained a mere two pallets of food, peanut butter, a CUMAC staple, was nonexistent and our frozen meat supplies were at a bare minimum.  And the turkeys! Where were the turkeys? Although, we never really know how many turkeys will be donated or when exactly they will arrive in our warehouse, we generally count on the fact that we will have turkeys and other food to serve our clients for Thanksgiving.  With the busiest time of CUMAC’S year fast approaching, the food scarcity concerned me.  Peanut butter was not the only thing that was nonexistent…..sleep was too.

I have seen this pattern before.  In the world of feeding low income families and for those who live in poverty, constants are rare, consistency is not reality.  Food flows into our warehouse; it is unpacked, organized, shelved, bagged, and moved to the pantry where it flows out into the hands of our clients.  That sentence makes the process seem very simple and smooth, when the reality is not simple or smooth at all. At times, the amount of food and resources we receive is more abundant than others. There are weeks when our warehouse is full and weeks where it is almost empty. Communicating our message of feeding people and changing lives is always top priority.  Recruiting partners is crucial to our life sustaining mission. When food is plentiful, we are busy organizing the flow in and out to our clients.  When donations are down, we are busy reaching out to our many partners and supporters informing them of the urgency. Similar to the clients we serve, we have learned to juggle resources and to sometimes do with less or without.  CUMAC relies on the generosity of our many, many individual donors and church and corporate partners, who are very often asked to respond to emergent needs, to donate food or funds to enable us to keep our doors open and our staff feeding people.  We are grateful for those partnerships.

As the days immediately before Thanksgiving unfolded, we gave turkeys and food to our clients.  Every night, when the pantry closed, we counted turkeys and wondered if we would have enough to give to everyone who asked the next day.  We were never quite certain that we had a sufficient amount.  But the turkeys kept coming in and we kept giving them away.  CUMAC was bustling with activity. Staff working hard; serving food to those in need.  People in……people out…..turkeys in…. turkeys out.   It was chaotic, loud, hectic, energizing, amazing. Now, at 3:30 on Thanksgiving eve, I sit in a quiet pantry feeling blessed by the quiet but more importantly, I am blessed by the chaos. 

Thanksgiving at CUMAC.jpg

Finding Home

Alphanso came to the United States from Kingston, Jamaica over 30 years ago. After a few years of moving around, he settled in the city of Paterson, where he has been living for over two decades. The transition from Jamaica wasn’t always easy for Alphanso — he’s had his fair share of bumps along the way — but he’s been able to build a life here and for that he is grateful. If you ask Alphanso, he’ll tell you that he is a lucky man. Since he’s lived in Paterson, he has always had a job and a place to call home. Unfortunately, Alphanso recently fell on hard times and was forced to leave his apartment days before Thanksgiving. Unsure of what to do, he started looking for a new home but struggled to find any options. He soon realized how difficult it is to find affordable housing in a city as populated as Paterson. With nowhere to go, Alphanso resorted to sleeping in his car. He left his vehicle running all night to stay warm in near freezing temperatures. The experience was terrifying. He tells us that he was afraid that the car would run out of fuel one night, and that he might freeze to death. Fortunately, the gas tank never went empty. He was able to continue his search and finally found his way to a local social service agency, where he was referred to Isaiah Jenkins, CUMAC’s Case Manager. With few options and even less fuel, Alphanso called Isaiah and prayed for the best.

That phone call changed everything. Once Isaiah heard about Alphanso’s problems he jumped into action. With years of experience as a case manager, counselor and advocate in the area, Isaiah knew what to do and who to contact. Within hours, Isaiah found somewhere for Alphanso to stay for the night. It was only temporary, but it was better than sleeping in a cold car. He also found a local senior program where Alphanso could stay for a few hours during the day while his living situation got settled. Slowly, a plan came together and Isaiah was there every step of the way. He would drive Alphanso around, picking him up and dropping him off from programs every day and night. He would even bring him to CUMAC or take him around town to do his laundry, get his medication or take care of other essentials. This went on for days as Isaiah continued his regular responsibilities with CUMAC’s clients and residents. It’s this kind of commitment to our neighbors in need that makes Isaiah truly special. His behind-the-scenes work goes beyond anything you might find on his resume, and you often don’t realize just how much he does for those around him until you’ve talked to someone he has helped.

After countless car rides and phone calls, Isaiah finally found Alphanso a spot at a local men’s shelter. Alphanso tells us that this experience has been nothing short of a miracle. “Isaiah is a savior, man. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be dead right now” he says. “I would’ve died in the cold, because I had nowhere to go.”

Isaiah was thrilled for the opportunity to provide Alphanso with some comfort and stability at one of the darkest times of his life. “That could be me. That could be any of us” says Isaiah. “I had to help.”  Because of his support, Alphanso will now be attending a local senior program every day, where he can socialize with other seniors, participate in different activities and enjoy a warm meal. At the shelter, Alphanso won’t have to worry about keeping a roof over his head either. With that burden off his shoulders, he now has the opportunity to save some money for a new apartment and get back on his feet.   

Alphanso and Isaiah (right)

Alphanso and Isaiah (right)

"CUMAC is good place, with good people” says Alphanso. “Isaiah never gave up on me and he treated me like a brother when I had no one. I will never forget that. There are still good people in this world. God bless you all.”

Alphanso’s story is similar to so many others we have served. Here is a man who never needed any help, who worked his entire life, and all of a sudden, at the age 75, finds himself in the most terrible of situations. With so many of our neighbors living paycheck-to-paycheck, we know all too well how easily one’s life can be turned upside down.  Fortunately, clients like Alphanso don’t have to face these challenges alone. When you have nowhere to turn, CUMAC is here to help. Lives are being changed every day thanks to our incredible staff and supporters like you. 

Want to help feed people & change lives? Get involved or donate today!

Spe et Labore: With Hope & Labor

On Friday, September 30th CUMAC closed up programs and took the staff on a local field trip. The goal for the day was just to get to know each other, and the city in which we work (and for some, live) a bit better.

Our first stop was to Paterson’s Great Falls.  This area received National Park recognition in 2009 and has seen a bit of a revival since. There are picnic areas and walking paths, and plenty of space to simply absorb the awe of the 77 foot high falls. On the day of our visit, it was grey and drizzly, but that did not stop staff from marveling at the powerful falls and surrounding views. A highlight of this stop was a personal victory for staff member Teresa, our beloved Thrift Shop manager.  Teresa has a sometimes debilitating fear of heights, however arm-in-arm with Executive Director Pat, and surrounded by her CUMAC family, she faced that fear and walked across the pedestrian bridge above the falls – twice!

Rev. Pat Bruger walking with Teresa over a bridge at the Great Falls

Rev. Pat Bruger walking with Teresa over a bridge at the Great Falls

Second, we took a short walk down the hill to The Paterson Museum.  There is a ton of information and visual interest packed into the space, and we highly recommend visiting on your own if you have the chance. We quickly learned that it was fitting we had just been to the Great Falls, as they are literally the driving force behind much of Paterson’s rich history, dating all the way back to its original inhabitation by the Lenape native people. As tour guide Robert Veronelli stated, “water is life” and the falls, and the Passaic River which they empty into, have represented nothing short of that for Paterson. The Passaic was a drinking and irrigation source for the Lenape; it was a vital trade route for over a century; it was the power behind turning Paterson into America’s first planned industrial city; and the hope is that the Falls will serve as one of the primary draws allowing Paterson to once again reinvent itself, this time as a tourist destination, and experience economic resurgence. In sharing that vision for the city, our guide Robert also shared that Paterson’s motto is “Spe et labore,” which translated from Latin means “With hope and labor.” As staff who work day in and day out to bring hope to the hungry and the struggling, those words resonated. We were reminded of our spot, of CUMAC’s role, in this great city.

The CUMAC staff at the Paterson Museum

The CUMAC staff at the Paterson Museum

Our final stop was to visit our friends at City Green. The Howard Sterling Memorial Garden that CUMAC christened in our parking lot in May was funded in part by a City Green “Dig In!” grant. While the City Green farm that we visited is in Clifton, they have supported the creation of dozens of community gardens throughout the city of Paterson, provided educational programming around gardening and healthy eating, and hosted farm markets in urban centers to offer affordable access to locally grown produce. While at City Green’s facility we got to experience some of their education programs first-hand, visit with their wildlife (goats and chickens abound!), and taste the fruits (or vegetables, to be exact) of their labor via a delicious cooking demo. We were grateful for the reminder of the importance of not just feeding people, but making sure we are providing the most nutritious food possible, and consider our friends at City Green an invaluable partner in food justice work.

Some of the CUMAC team cooking a meal together at City Green

Some of the CUMAC team cooking a meal together at City Green

Hunger isn’t going away overnight. But our day out of the office reinvigorated our drive to work together and continue serving our neighbors in need in this beautiful city. We are confident that with the collective “hope and labor” of our staff, board, volunteer force, donors, and many, many partners we will alleviate hunger and change lives.

A Little Extra Goes A Long Way

In CUMAC’s warehouse, it’s a well known rule of thumb that if you leave your belongings unattended amidst all of the donations, they will inevitably (and accidentally!) make their way to the pantry, the Community Closet, or one of our other programs to fill a need.  I’m often heard telling our volunteers not to leave their coats unattended because they’ll wind up in the thrift shop and I’m always taping enormous orange signs to volunteer lunches so that they don’t wind up being given out in the pantry. Amazingly, this request often galvanizes volunteers to say “keep the coat, somebody needs it more than me!” or “that’s OK, I’ll share my lunch!”  This past month, a large volunteer crew had ordered a catered lunch and surprised me by setting aside the lion’s share of it “to share as needed.”  This offer came just in time to make a big difference.

We have a young mom of 4 who works in our pantry and goes to school part time while raising her kids solo.  She has a heart of gold and goes above and beyond to help everyone she meets. On this particular day, she had been so busy that she hadn’t had time to grab lunch, and when I offered sandwiches she grabbed one and looked absolutely relieved to have a quick meal.  I was walking by the pantry a few minutes later when I saw Jeni handing off her sandwich to a tall gentleman. Immediately I knew Jeni was doing what she does best.  With her big heart she was passing on food to somebody who needed it more than her along with a big, cold bottle of orange juice.  Knowing what would come next, I popped into the office, filled a big cup with juicy watermelon pieces, and left it with a fork on her desk.  Not surprisingly, by the time I passed by again the watermelon was being enjoyed not by Jeni, but by her new friend, now settled in to a comfy chair eating his snack.

Mike* had come in off the street that day to see if we had any food to eat.  When Jeni offered him groceries he replied “Nah, can’t do those. I live in my shop.” He’d been to CUMAC a few times before, but would never take groceries with him, apparently that was why.  That day he told Jeni that a year and a half ago he was involved in a freak accident.  A car had come off a trailer carrying cars (the type you always try to avoid driving behind on highways).  It fell on top of him and he was trapped for two hours before somebody heard him yelling.  He’d had trouble working since and because he was at odds with his family he didn’t really have anyone to turn to during that time. Suffering physical pain and mounting medical bills, he would up spending nights in the car lot and shop he worked in up the street from CUMAC.

Since that day Jeni shared her sandwich, Mike comes back sometimes to say hi and to see if there’s any ready-made food.  He’s admitted that without the staff in the referral office he’d be going hungry.  There have been days he’s gone without food, but now because of CUMAC he gets the help he needs.  We’ve been blessed to count him as a friend and his visits are always much enjoyed by staff.  We’re happy also to have the generosity of our volunteers and donors, which allows us to open our doors to all of our many friends who –just like Mike- need a little extra love and support to get through the day.  

*Name replaced. 

Want to feed people & change lives with CUMAC? Consider holding a food drive or making a contribution this month. Every donation can help clients like Mike stay hunger-free. 

Recap: The Action Against Hunger™ Food Drive

The Action Against Hunger Food Drive celebrated its 25th anniversary last Sunday and CUMAC was thrilled to be a part of it! The drive was started back in 1991 in response to the growing hunger problem, and though much has changed since its inception, the drive remains important as ever to the hungry and the food pantries that serve them. We’ve been hearing some fun facts and wonderful stories about the drive all week long so we thought we’d share them with you. Here are some of our favorites:

  • A group of our volunteers were collecting food outside of a local supermarket when a man walked out of the store holding a large bag of charcoal. It was the man’s birthday and he was celebrating with a huge BBQ with friends and family. He was on his way home, but after hearing about the food drive he immediately stopped and went back in the store. A few minutes later he came back with 5 bags packed with food and said, “No one ever goes hungry on my birthday!” Our team couldn't help but smile. 
  • Outside of another collection site on Sunday a man generously dropped off several bags of food. After chatting with the man for a few minutes, our team learned why this was so important to our donor. He had relied on a local pantry when he was struggling a couple of years ago, and this was the first time he was able to give back. He told our team that he no longer needs the help, but the kindness of those who served him stays with him every day. “It feels good to be on the other side" he told our team. "I hope this helps.” 

  • ·Volunteering is more fun when you’re with the ones you love. That was easy to see on Sunday with so many of our staff members joined by their family!

  • Two of CUMAC’s regular thrift shop customers heard that our staff was short on help last weekend so they stopped by for an afternoon of food packing with their favorite CUMAC employee. Teresa, our thrift shop manager, was all smiles! 
  • Over 200 volunteers joined us on Sunday to collect, sort and pack thousands of pounds of food for our neighbors in need.
  • Dozens of kids came out to volunteer, full of energy and enthusiasm for fighting hunger. It was fun for all of us to watch! At one of our collection sites, one family was so inspired by one of our young volunteers — and their passion — that they donated an entire shopping cart full of food!
  • The food collected during the drive will be shared with the 17 other pantries that worked alongside the CUMAC team for the big day. CUMAC and these partner pantries are collectively serving over 15,000 people in need every month. That takes TONS of food so every donation makes a difference.
A warehouse full of food ready to be shared with our clients and partner pantries.

A warehouse full of food ready to be shared with our clients and partner pantries.

Sunday was truly a day to remember. Thanks to everyone who came out to show their support! Scroll down for other ways you can help CUMAC fight hunger this fall. Have a favorite story from the drive? Share it with us in the comments section or on social media.

Hunger Action Month & You

September is Hunger Action Month! It’s a time when we try to spread awareness about hunger and share ways we can all be part of the solution. Many don’t realize that 1 in 7 people now face hunger in New Jersey. At a time when so many are struggling to keep food on the table, agencies like CUMAC are providing groceries and vital resources to thousands of our neighbors every month. Because of your kindness CUMAC is able to serve all who come our way. We can assist clients like Tanya, a Paterson native who recently lost her job and home. Tanya had been living in a shelter and working to get her life back on track, but was forced to leave because of time restrictions. With no other options she’s been living out of her car, keeping all of her possessions piled in the back seat. 

When Tanya walked into CUMAC, it was her last resort. She was hungry, scared and exhausted. Immediately our team sprang into action, searching the warehouse for items that could help Tanya, like food that would be easy to eat without a kitchen. Moments later they came together with drinks, sandwich fixings, and snacks.  Thanks to special collections, we were even able to give Tanya a bag full of hygiene products.  She was so grateful that she gave each of our pantry team members a huge hug. Before she left, our team invited her to come back as soon as she needed more, hoping next time she would be coming to fill her refrigerator with food. With a sigh of relief, she smiled and went on her way.

Tanya’s story is similar to so many others around our community. Over 1 million people struggle with hunger in New Jersey, and the effects can be devastating. Fortunately, CUMAC is providing many of our struggling neighbors with the resources they need most. You can help us do more. During Hunger Action Month and beyond, we’re calling on you to be part of the hunger solution. Spread the word about hunger and take action this month. Your efforts, large or small, can help change someone’s life around you.

Want to get started? Here are some ways you can fight hunger this month:

1. Hold a food drive or special collection for your local pantry! CUMAC is running low on several vital items at the moment. Check out a list of our most-needed items and help restock our shelves.

2. Volunteer in your community. Individuals and groups are always welcome at CUMAC! Learn more about volunteering here.

3. Spread the word about hunger! Use #HungerActionMonth or #Hungerhelpers to be part of the online conversation. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest news about hunger and CUMAC.

4. Contact your local representative and tell them to make hunger a priority. With 1 in 5 children facing hunger, it is imperative that we strengthen anti-hunger programs like SNAP and summer meals. Look up your representatives here.

5. Sign up to run down hunger with us! We’re looking for runners and walkers to join Team CUMAC for our 2nd annual Halloween-themed 5K this October. Learn more here.

6. Attend a CUMAC event! From concerts and sporting events to meal-packing events and auctions, CUMAC has events for everyone. See what’s happening this fall on our events page.

7.  Sign up for OP4G and become an online fundraiser! OP4G is a market research company that allows users to take surveys to raise money for their favorite charitable organizations. Every time you take a survey you can earn money to help feed families in need (and yourself). Sign up for OP4G this month and CUMAC will receive a special bonus. To get started click here. For other ways to get involved you can check out our online opportunities.

A Conversation Worth Sharing

Mel Hioki, Author & Illustrator

Mel Hioki, Author & Illustrator

Mel Hioki, one of CUMAC’s Board Members, wrote and illustrated a children’s book called The Other Side of the Pond. It’s a book I really enjoy. It’s about two communities of frogs living in the same pond. The communities are very similar, but one group of frogs has an abundance of food, while the other group struggles to find anything to eat. The two communities have never met because they are afraid of what’s on the other side of the pond, but one day that all changes and so goes the story. 

Mel wrote the book as a way of starting a conversation about hunger and that’s exactly what’s been happening. Over the last year, Mel and I have read the book at libraries around the state. After every reading we’ll not only talk to the audience about the story, but we’ll also talk about hunger and ways they can help fight it. We’ve had some great discussions over the last few months, but one exchange in particular inspired me to share this with you today.

Mel and I were finishing up one of our talks at a local library, asking the audience what they had learned from the story. After some thoughtful answers, a father in attendance spoke up. He said, “Don’t be afraid to tell someone you’re hungry.” Right away, the kids and parents in the crowd turned to him. “It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” he said. “If you’re hungry, you can talk to someone. They might be able to help.” Everyone nodded in approval and our conversation continued. 

After Mel and I wrapped up for the afternoon, that same man approached me as we were packing up our materials. “Thank you for coming today,” he said. “Your lesson, the story — really hit home for me. When I was a kid I was hungry. My mom was a single-parent, she did the best that she could, but we had stretch our meals out a lot. We had to make the rice and eggs last, you know? It was hard.” I could hear the intensity in his voice. I was speechless. He continued. “Back then I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody. That’s why I said what I said earlier. I wanted the kids to know that. I’m glad you two came today and my boys could learn about hunger.”

The Other side of the pond continues to be shared around the state in an effort to spread hunger awareness. 

The Other side of the pond continues to be shared around the state in an effort to spread hunger awareness. 

We talked for a few minutes until it was time for his family to go, but this conversation has stuck with me. This man faced hunger at a time when there was no conversation about it. He couldn’t talk about his hunger back then or how it made him feel. What a grueling weight to carry. For many, that same struggle is happening now. For many, the stigma around hunger continues. We see it all the time with community members who are afraid to visit CUMAC’s pantry or ask for help. But through Mel’s book and our discussions, it feels like some of those walls are coming down, at least for a little while. And we need that more than ever because hunger is a silent crisis that affects 1 in 7 people in the United States. That’s 48 million Americans, 1 in 5 children. Too many of them are silently suffering, unaware that help is there for them. We need to stop the stigma. We need to be able to talk about hunger, honestly and openly, and keep the conversation going.  

We have so much to gain from talking about the hunger crisis. I challenge you to take a look around and start a conversation about hunger in your circle this month — not just with your friends or family, but with your local representatives and businesses, librarians, teachers or anyone who may want to listen. You never know where that discussion might go or who might be on the other side. 

To learn more about Mel and The Other Side Of The Pond visit our book page.

A Cup of Coffee With Jesse

cup of coffee.jpg

When CUMAC receives a surplus of fresh fruits and vegetables and we know we can’t give them out fast enough through our pantry, we often set some under the train trestle next to our building so the public can take as much home as they know they can use or distribute to friends and family.  This has become a popular tradition in our community and many people stop by every few days to grab fresh produce in addition to the monthly allocation of food they receive from CUMAC.  

This past June, one of our Pathways to Work participants, Ron, was struggling to organize boxes of produce under the trestle when a young man named Jesse jumped out of the waiting crowd to help.  Jesse was unique both in being so friendly and willing to pitch in while others waited by the sidelines, but also in the fact that he wasn’t wearing a shirt despite the dark skies, cold rain and rapidly dropping temperatures.  After Jesse had assembled his own little box of fruits, Ron got a chance to ask if he needed a shirt and got the answer he had expected: “yes, big time.  I would really appreciate a shirt.”

The trestle outside of cumac's facility in paterson

The trestle outside of cumac's facility in paterson

As Jesse picked out some clothing in our Community Closet, he shared some of his story.  He had recently been released from prison with nothing to his name and nowhere to go.  He didn’t have family around and no one to go to for help.  This meant that in the pouring rain and cold wind the day he came to CUMAC, he didn’t even have a shirt to protect his bare back from the storm.   That day we were able to share a hot cup of coffee, clothing, shoes, food and a sympathetic ear.  In an unlucky turn of events, by the time Ron and Jesse got back outside, the little box of fruit he had picked for himself was gone, but still he jumped in without hesitate to help clean up discarded boxes and bits of littered fruits and vegetables.  

It was a pleasure to make a new friend in Jesse.  He is a kind man, funny, grateful and willing to lend a hand when he sees help is needed.  It’s difficult to think how deeply the odds are stacked against him as he works to reenter society and rebuild his life.  A man so willing to jump in and do what’s needed will likely have to jump through impossible hoops to get his life back on track.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics an average of 590,400 inmates are released annually from state and federal prisons.  Of the nearly 70,000 adults and 8,000 juveniles expected to leave New Jersey correctional facilities over the next few years, it is estimated that two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years.   The vast majority of ex-offenders reentering society face insurmountable barriers and without other options many turn back to petty crime and reincarceration.  

In most states, individuals are released from prison without a state-issued (widely required) ID card, such as a driver’s or non-driver’s license.  Without proof of identity, people with criminal records are often unable to apply for jobs, secure housing, or sign up for the public benefits that might help them survive their first few months.  Even if a person without identification is fortunate enough to find work, the lack of a state ID can make it extremely difficult to cash paychecks or open a bank account. Leaving prison without money, job prospects or a support network –usually without even a cell phone- leaves people scrambling to make ends meet. Fulfilling basic needs for food, shelter and clothing become nearly impossible and many who would prefer a steady job and stable life turn back to criminal activities out of desperation. 

Thankfully, more is being done in recent years to help ex-offenders reenter their communities with the support and opportunities needed to thrive.  In 2011, the Department of Justice established the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which now includes more than 20 federal departments and agencies, and has developed significant policies and initiatives to not only reduce recidivism, but to also improve public health, child welfare, employment, education, housing and other key elements of reintegration.  Major efforts to support and strengthen reentry programs and resources at the Bureau of Prisoners (BOP) will help those who have paid their debt to society prepare for opportunities outside of prison by promoting family unity and economic contribution.  Recent efforts to promote reentry work at BOP also include hiring the first-ever Second Chance Fellow, a formerly incarcerated individual with deep expertise in the reentry field to assist in developing reentry policy initiatives. A new Reentry Services Division is working to better equip inmates with the tools needed for success outside of prison, including expanded mental health and substance abuse treatment programs and improved work and educational opportunities. 

At the same time, states are doing more to help ex-offenders procure IDs that are universally accepted and can be used to find employment, apply for benefits and open bank accounts.  Many states, New Jersey included, are making it easier for ex-offenders to apply for housing benefits, SNAP (formerly food stamps), and other forms of support that are critical to bolstering the transition into society.  Here in Paterson, many programs exist to help ex-offenders navigate the challenges they face after release.  These programs help newly released individuals procure state identification, find appropriate social services, train for employment and look for work.  CUMAC is fortunate to partner with many of these agencies to provide a source of food while program participants work to get their lives on track.   Thanks to our friends and supporters, CUMAC can help all who come to us, whatever the circumstance, to ensure they have the support they need as they move toward brighter futures.  


The Dog Days of Summer

Summer is a special season. It’s a time for vacations, barbecues and fun in the sun. For many of us, it’s a time to take a much needed break and unwind. But for thousands of families around northern New Jersey, it can be the hungriest time of the year. With schools out of session, millions of children nationwide lose access to school lunch and breakfast. Summer feeding programs are a great resource, but they are often underutilized. While participation has improved in recent years, lack of transportation and awareness remain major barriers.  It’s estimated that just 15% of kids who receive free- or reduced-price lunch during the school year are participating in summer programs. That leaves a substantial amount of children in at risk of going hungry. Meanwhile, scorching temperatures lead to higher utilities bills, forcing struggling families to stretch their tight budgets even further during the summer time. With options limited, many families turn to their local food pantry for assistance. Food pantries do their best to fill the gap, but they face their own challenges, most notably: food shortages. 

In the summer, food shortages are all too common for food pantries. As the school year comes to a close and schedules slow down, so does support. Food drives and collections drop significantly. While many of us are taking a break, hunger continues to rear its ugly head and struggling families are still…struggling. Need for assistance remains high and millions of people turn to pantries as their last line of defense against hunger during the summer months. With limited resources and dwindling supplies, serving clients becomes increasingly difficult for pantries everywhere. 

At CUMAC, it’s the first week of summer and we can already see a noticeable difference on our shelves. Despite the decline in donations, we continue to serve thousands of our hungry neighbors every month. But CUMAC’s food supply is shrinking and if this trend continues, we’ll be facing major food shortages in the weeks ahead and that could be devastating for the people who rely on us. 

Summer can be a terrifying time of year for families and the pantries that serve them, but it doesn’t have to be. Your support ensures that we can keep our shelves stocked and our clients hunger-free. That’s why we need you to take action. Make a donation or hold a food drive this month and give CUMAC the boost we need to serve all who come our way. Together, we can ensure that everyone in our community gets to enjoy the fun of summer.

**CUMAC is holding a food drive competition this month. We’re giving out 4 free soccer tickets to the individual or group that brings in the most food to CUMAC by July 14. Win or lose, all of your donations will help our neighbors keep food on the table this summer. For more details visit our food drive competition page.**

Fighting Hunger With Music

Since 2011, the YouChoose Band — a rotating cast of dedicated musicians under the direction of supremely creative Chief Organizer Guy, Dave Philp — has hosted a series of musical events to raise awareness and funds to support CUMAC’s anti-hunger programming. To date the fun events have raised over $60,000, and we’re not done yet. Plans are already underway for a 2017 schedule of re-tooled and re-energized events, and Mr. Philp himself has set a bold goal to raise a cumulative $100,000 by 2020. We have no doubt we can hit the mark if you join us. Stay tuned for more information! 

We would like to send a huge thank you to Dave and the YouChoose Band for their unwavering support in the fight against hunger. Together, we're making our community a healthier, happier place for all! 

Why Volunteer With CUMAC?

Last year alone, volunteers donated over 40,000 hours of time to CUMAC, allowing our programs to reach over 38,000 people struggling with hunger. With those incredible numbers in mind, we asked some of our regular helpers what they love about volunteering. Here's what they told us...

Volunteering at CUMAC makes me feel like I’m making a difference. It’s rewarding to be able to give back and help the community I live in and I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to lend a hand where it’s needed.
— Gianna
CUMAC is an amazing organization that takes care of families, and we get the opportunity to take care of CUMAC by volunteering our time.
— Team Microsoft, Willowbrook Mall
Our club is devoted to giving back to the community, especially in and around our university, and also to exposing students to potentially career-inspiring experiences. We are excited to assist an organization like CUMAC that is working to make a difference in the lives of those in need.
— Michael, Sociology Club of William Paterson University
We enjoy volunteering at CUMAC; it comes naturally to us because volunteering is a part of our lives. To us, it’s not an obligation. It is something we do to help others who are in need.
— The Zimmerman Family
As a future registered dietitian, CUMAC is one of my favorite places to spend my time. With the unique ability to distribute fruit and vegetables, CUMAC works hard to provide proper nutrition for all — something I can certainly stand behind!
— Ayla
Three things about volunteering weekly at CUMAC: We’re making a genuine difference in people’s lives, CUMAC inspires and unites our church in mission, and the volunteer coordinators make it a joy to serve!
— Pastor Chuck, Totowa United Methodist Church
I love what I’m doing. I love helping people. I love CUMAC. We’re one big happy family.
— Mattie
Volunteering at CUMAC made me realize how blessed I am and how I should share my blessings to those who need them more than I do.
— Emily

We're lucky to have such an amazing team of volunteers. Thanks to all of you who are fighting hunger with us day in and day out. Without you, our work simply wouldn't be possible. 

Do you love volunteering? Tell us about it in the Comments section! Want to get involved? Check out our volunteer section or contact Stephanie Ames for more information.

Sometimes The Small Things Matter Most

Every morning many of us turn on the lights, get out of bed and make breakfast with hardly a thought. We carry on with our day, taking these simple things for granted. But for many of our fellow neighbors, these basic necessities are not guaranteed. Nearly 1 in 7 NJ residents struggle to keep food on the table and thousands of families in our own community are often forced to make tough decisions about their basic needs.

Our staff knows how hard these decisions can be for struggling families. Being forced to choose between buying food and paying bills can bring a world of stress. That’s why we handle every client that walks through our doors with great care. When it comes to feeding people & changing lives, it’s not just about providing food, it’s about giving our clients the support they need. 

Sometimes it’s the small things that matter most. Jeni, a member of our pantry team, often saves produce and pre-packed meals for clients who don’t have any way of cooking their food. Understanding how frustrating it can be for our clients to receive the wrong “kind” of food, Jeni is always prepared with a bag of items that are ready to eat. She has the same regard for anyone that walks through our doors, whether it’s a family with special dietary needs or a struggling parent whose child loves peanut butter and jelly. Discovering these special items in their grocery bags, along with the care in which they are presented, are enough to bring many sighs of relief and smiles around our pantry.  

jeni serving clients in cumac's pantry

jeni serving clients in cumac's pantry

This week a client named Martha came to our referral office in a panic. She had been hungry for several days and she was terrified. Seeing that Martha was in need of a listening ear, our team took the time to listen. They asked Martha about her day, talked her through her troubles and shared some words of encouragement.  By the time Martha's groceries were ready, everything had changed for her. Martha realized that she would have something to eat when she got home and that she wouldn’t have to worry about where her next meal was coming from. Most importantly, she felt heard and she knew that someone was in her corner. Something so small, a few minutes of conversation and support, turned her whole day around.

In the middle of our busy days, it’s easy to forget the small things.  Whether it’s the food in our refrigerator or the interactions we have with those around us, the small stuff matters. We challenge you to focus more on the small things this week — count your blessings and do something nice for a loved one or a perfect stranger. The smallest good deed can make a world of difference. We see it every day at CUMAC.    

If you’re looking for simple ways to make a difference this month, visit our opportunities page.



National Volunteer Week

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."           – Margaret Mead

Every helping hand can make a difference. We know that well here at CUMAC. Each year volunteers from near and far come together to fight hunger with us, allowing CUMAC to serve thousands of our neighbors in need. Without these helping hands, our work simply wouldn’t be possible.

This National Volunteer Week we would like to send our deep appreciation to all of you who are donating your time to improve the lives of others. We know that you could easily be spending your free time on other things, but instead you're packing bags of food, organizing fundraiser events, holding collections and most importantly, giving back. Your efforts inspire us every day.

We’re accomplishing some amazing things at CUMAC and it's largely because of our volunteers. In 2015 alone, we served over 38,000 people facing food insecurity and distributed nearly 2 million pounds of food. Over 100 families were given clothing and household items to recover from disaster and nearly 3,000 children received school supplies, Easter baskets and holiday gifts to feed their potential and joy. With the continued support of our volunteers, we know we'll do even more for our clients in 2016.

Thanks to all of you who are feeding people & changing lives with us. Whether you volunteer at CUMAC twice a week or twice a year, your efforts are making our community a better place to live and for that we are grateful. Happy National Volunteer Week!

Celebrating National Volunteer Week? Share your photos with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram! Want to join the fight against hunger? Fill out our volunteer application! To learn more call (973-742-5518) or e-mail ( Stephanie Ames, Community Engagement Coordinator. 

Reflections from a CUMAC Intern

Shanee, jeni, ely and mouna in cumac's food pantry and referral office

Shanee, jeni, ely and mouna in cumac's food pantry and referral office

My journey with CUMAC started through an afternoon of community service. Studying Public Administration with a focus on non-profit organizations, I was required by my school to spend time volunteering in my community. There were many different locations to choose from for community service, but when I looked deeper into my choices I realized that many of my options did not give me a hands-on opportunity to help.  Fortunately, I found CUMAC and immediately I knew that it was the best place for me to contribute. From the first day I felt the family atmosphere and was welcomed as part of the team.  In the few hours that I volunteered, the experience made a lasting impression. I was amazed by how many people, individuals and groups, were coming together under one roof to make the work possible and I was compelled to share it with my friends and professors. 

That’s why when I needed somewhere to complete my internship, I came back to CUMAC. I was looking for ways to truly help families in need. After being granted the option to intern with CUMAC, I was happy to find out that my first task was to aid with the Holiday Wish List program. I began sorting clothing, toys and gifts that were donated to CUMAC. Once gathered and organized we distributed the gifts to the families and children in the program. In less than four weeks we were able to distribute gifts for over 1,000 children, bringing many smiles to kids in our neighborhood. On top of the already great feeling of being able to give back to our community, we received many thank you cards from the families we helped, expressing their appreciation and love. It was an experience I will always remember. 

leigh and mouna packing bags for cumac's holiday wish list program

leigh and mouna packing bags for cumac's holiday wish list program

Since the Holiday Wish List program I have assisted with projects in every department, allowing me to learn and serve. In every program, CUMAC’s help shows no bounds.  CUMAC provides services for nearly 40,000 people each year, regardless of race, creed, sex or religion. From the trucks that distribute food every day to the training given to clients to get them back into the workforce, you will always find a helping hand and hope with CUMAC. Thirty years of giving and still this friendly, family environment is getting bigger and expanding its impact.   

After four months with CUMAC, I am sad to be completing my internship. This organization gave me love and showed me how I can hold responsibilities and make a difference in my community. Knowing that my time, energy and effort is putting food on a friend’s table and helping them during a rough time has truly been the most fulfilling experience of my life. No amount of money can replace the feeling and satisfaction of helping those in need. Your age, status and wealth have no bearing when it’s time to give back. I encourage you all to get involved with CUMAC and see for yourself how terrific it is. 

- Mouna Hamidaddin

Ely's Extraordinary Journey

Ely started working with CUMAC in the summer of 2014 through the Pathways to Work program. It wasn’t an easy time for Ely. She had recently given birth to her first child, Josiah, and this was the first time she had ever been away from her son. The first few days were especially tough, but she knew in her heart that starting with CUMAC was the best thing she could do for her family. She had been struggling to find a job, and being part of the Pathways to Work program would give her an opportunity to gain job experience, to work on her professional skills, and to better support her family. And so her journey with CUMAC began. 

After a couple of days of seeing different aspects of CUMAC’s work, assisting with everything from packing bags to sorting clothing, Ely was assigned to CUMAC’s pantry and referral office where she quickly found a home. Her first job: helping with the distribution of food in our pantry. Ely says she was a little intimidated at first — CUMAC’s pantry can be hectic at times — but her fears were quelled by the supportive team around her. 

Fast forward to 2016 and Ely can hardly believe how much has changed in just 17 months. When she started with the Pathways to Work program, she was in a different place in her life. She was unemployed and didn’t have much confidence in herself. Fortunately, she had plenty of encouragement and Shanee Alston, Pantry Supervisor for CUMAC, started working with her regularly. Ely felt uncomfortable using computers at first, but the support she received in the referral office gave her a boost of confidence. With Shanee’s guidance, she mastered PATH, an innovative software developed specifically for members of the Community Food Coalition to track client usage, and other computer programs. The experience was eye-opening for Ely. 

“I’m not so nervous anymore. I’m more open,” she says with a smile. “I’m more willing to try new things and I see myself now in a much more positive way.”

Ely’s not the only one who has noticed the change. Our staff has seen just how much she’s grown, and continues to challenge Ely with new responsibilities around the building. She now assists all aspects of pantry operations, leads our mobile pantry efforts and has even started training others.  

“In the short time that Ely has been at CUMAC, she has become a leader,” says Rose Peligri, CFC Coordinator for CUMAC. “She offers tremendous support to her co-workers and has learned CUMAC's procedures and the PATH database so efficiently that she is now able to train other pantries throughout the county on effective pantry procedures and the PATH system.”

Along with her leadership and willingness to take on new projects, Ely is constantly giving her co-workers and clients a reason to smile. “Ely is a blessing” says Shanee. “She has a huge heart, a sympathetic ear and strong shoulder, our clients really enjoy sitting with her.” 

Though she loves all of her new duties, Ely’s favorite part about working at CUMAC is the time she gets to spend with clients. She knows well that those who are visiting our pantry are often facing their last resort. When hunger is at hand, it can be a scary and often stressful experience, but that’s why Ely loves being a face for CUMAC. She gets the chance to welcome our clients, answer their questions and provide them with any help they may need along the way. Sometimes, just offering a listening ear or a few words of encouragement are enough to turn a client’s day around. This brings Ely and the rest of our pantry team great joy and the smiles and thank you’s they so regularly receive are a constant reminder of how important CUMAC is to the community it serves. 

Ely is now an AmeriCorps member and couldn’t be more excited about her position. She looks at her future with optimism and excitement. When asked about her experience with CUMAC she says, “CUMAC has changed my life a lot. They’ve put me in a positive place in my life and have shown me so much. I’ve grown because of CUMAC.” 

Each year the Pathways to Work program provides dozens of our fellow community members with the support and resources they need to grow both professionally and personally. It’s amazing to see the way it touches so many lives. We’re proud of everything that Ely has accomplished in her short time with us and thrilled to call her a member of our team. 

Ely, thank you for all that you do to help fight hunger in our community!