From Our Blog: A Cup Of Coffee With Jesse
By Stephanie Ames
When CUMAC receives a surplus of fresh fruits and vegetables on the brink of expiration 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.”
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.
This story originally appeared on CUMAC's blog. For more stories like this visit www.cumac.org/blog
By Jennifer Miller
A few months ago I sat at the CUMAC conference table with Lynne Bruger, CUMAC’s Development Director. She told me that as CUMAC’s new event coordinator one of my responsibilities was our annual school supply drive. We discussed the details of the project and the process of asking for donations. I asked how we distributed the backpacks and if this year we could try to give directly to schools in Paterson. The thought behind working directly with schools was to ensure that we’d be able to reach all students in need of assistance. In other words, no student would be left out.
My journey to find partner schools led me to two academies in Paterson. These schools educate youth who are working hard to make new and better choices in their lives. I knew by partnering with these academies we could give these students the boost they need to start on the right path this school year.
Today, the 22nd of August, as I write this, words can‘t describe the joy I feel seeing donations - full boxes of supplies - coming in every day. The number of volunteers who write me daily wanting to come to CUMAC to pack backpacks is just another sign of the commitment our volunteers have to help this community. The backpack drive would not be possible without all of your kindness and generosity.
This year we will distribute well over 300 bags full of supplies. We hope to continually grow the school supply drive so that no student in our community begins school without the proper supplies they need for their success.
Tackling Senior Hunger
By Adrian Diaz
At CUMAC our team always strives to better serve our community. Over the years many of CUMAC’s programs, like our mobile and satellite pantries, have been formed in direct response to the needs of our clients. Because of these efforts, less of our hungry neighbors need to worry about where their next meal is coming from and that’s something to be excited about.
Since the expansion of our pantry programs, CUMAC has continued to search for different ways of reaching those who are hungry. Our team regularly checks in with our clients and other local pantries in hopes of better understanding community needs. These conversations and phone calls recently turned our attention to another growing problem in our community: senior hunger.
According to Feeding America, nearly 1 in 10 senior citizens face hunger in America, and in communities like ours those numbers are even higher. This is due to the fact that seniors face a number of unique barriers to accessing food. Elderly individuals who are no longer able to work are more likely to live on fixed incomes and often food is the first “luxury expense” to be cut as expenses outpace limited budgets. Accessing grocery stores and pantries becomes more challenging for this particular population, as they are more likely to have limited mobility or be unable to drive.
Often, senior citizens have chronic health issues they need to address, adding additional burdens to limited budgets. Millions of seniors around the country are forced to make hard choices like paying for medicine or medical care and food. The impact of those decisions can be devastating. While expensive health issues often force seniors to prioritize medicine over food, seniors who are chronically hungry also experience greater risks to their health as a direct result of experiencing hunger. They are at increased risk of diabetes, congestive heart failure, asthma, heart attacks, depression, and nutrient deficiencies. Hungry seniors also face lower levels of physical performance and are more than twice as likely to be in poor health.
CUMAC serves thousands of seniors every year. We’re thrilled to be helping so many, but our team also realizes that there are many seniors we aren’t reaching. In an effort to make our services more accessible, CUMAC has recently teamed up with local senior homes and programs to ensure that we can keep some of our community’s most vulnerable residents hunger-free. We’re thrilled to be working with programs like Xanadu Adult Medical Daycare Center, which provides a range of social services including meals, counseling and transportation for residents of Passaic and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, Xanadu’s programs are only available 5 hours per day and many of their members do not have sufficient income to afford food outside of the program. In hopes of finding a solution, Xanadu reached out to CUMAC earlier this year and our team has been providing groceries ever since.
Every month our staff packs hundreds of bags filled with groceries and delivers them directly to seniors enrolled in the program. Bags include everything from canned and dry goods to fresh produce and frozen items. For the seniors at Xanadu, these groceries have been a lifesaver. “Our seniors have been so grateful, so happy for the help” says Guillermo Cepeda, Director of Social Services at Xanadu. “The food provided by CUMAC has been essential to our members meeting their nutritional needs at home.”
Partnering with programs like Xanadu has allowed us to serve and connect with seniors in our neighborhood in new and exciting ways. In the future CUMAC hopes to expand these types of services to other senior homes and programs around our community. Topping CUMAC's wishlist is a mobile pantry fully equipped to process clients and share both nonperishable and perishable food to replace our current "van and tent" system. Hunger among seniors is a huge problem, but together we are making great progress.
Making A Difference Together
CUMAC provides critical support to our neighbors struggling with hunger every day. With your support, CUMAC's pantry is serving over 2,500 people every month, and our other community programs like the Community Closet, Pathways to Work, and Place of Promise are providing our neighbors with the resources they need most. Your generosity makes it all possible. As we are between typical giving times and grant payout periods, cash is precariously low at CUMAC. Please consider making a donation today. Your gift in any amount will ensure we can help all who come our way.
$50 will feed a family of four for a week. $60 will keep one of our trucks on the road for a full day, allowing us to rescue, transport and distribute food to our community. Help us keep our community hunger-free and donate today!
A Conversation Worth Sharing
By Adrian Diaz
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.”
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.
Around the Community
The wonderful team at Morgan Stanley organized a company food drive this summer that brought in over 600 pounds of food and $2,600! Their team took the morning off of work to sort and pack bags of groceries for CUMAC’s clients at their office in Paramus, NJ. After packing the bags, the food was delivered to CUMAC, where it was ready to be given out in our pantry. What a day! Thanks Morgan Stanley for fighting hunger with us!
We’d like to send a big CUMAC thank you to our friends at Atlantic Stewardship Bank. Over the years, Atlantic Stewardship Bank has continued to show an unwavering commitment to the fight against hunger and New Jersey. Through their annual Tithe Program, they have donated over $100,000 to CUMAC over the years! Thank you Atlantic Stewardship Bank for being such a wonderful partner in our mission to feed people & change lives.
In June we teamed up with Deloitte for our annual Fresh Veggie Day. With the support of their amazing team of volunteers, over 8,000 pounds of fresh produce were packed and distributed around our community. Along with giving out veggies in CUMAC’s pantry, volunteers delivered hundreds of bags of produce to local senior homes and agencies, including Federation Apartments, the William Hinchliffe Manor, Oasis, Brick Residence, and Monsignor Joseph Brisel Residence. Thanks Deloitte for helping make our community a better place for all!
And The Winner Is...
We’re thrilled to announce that First Presbyterian Church of Ridgewood is the winner of CUMAC’s summer food drive competition. This wonderful group donated over 2,400 pounds of food during the contest period!
We’d also like to send a special thank you to the United Methodist Churches of Totowa, Franklin Lakes, and Wayne - each of which donated over 500 pounds of food during our contest. Whether you donated 1 can of food or 100, everyone who participated in the contest provided a much-needed boost to CUMAC’s supply at this critical time of year.
Without your support we would have faced a major food shortage this summer, leaving many of our clients at risk of going hungry. Thanks to everyone who collected for CUMAC. We are grateful for all that you do!
The food drive competition may be over, but it's never a bad time to donate to CUMAC! Want to help? CUMAC is running low on cereal, rice, beans, pasta, baby food, canned meat & items high in protein. See a full list of our most-needed items here.
The AAH Food Drive is a one-day, multi-county food drive that benefits food pantries and anti-hunger groups throughout northern New Jersey. With the support of local supermarkets, the food drive provides thousands of pounds of food just in time for the busy holiday season. Sadly, less stores will be participating this year, leaving us with fewer options when collecting. Consider making your business, church, or civic organization a collection site. Volunteers are also needed! Call (973-742-5518) or e-mail Stephanie Ames to learn more. Visit our event page to register.
CUMAC is gearing up for our 2nd Annual Scare Hunger Away 5K race on Sunday, October 30! The event is being held at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park, NJ. All ages are welcome and proceeds will be donated to CUMAC! The event will feature Trick or Treat stations, a costume contest, a certified course, and even a Kids Fun Run. Want to get involved? CUMAC needs volunteers, runners and fundraisers for the event. Sign up as an individual or bring a group! To learn more or to register for the race visit the event website.
Save The Date
Action Against Hunger Food Drive
Sunday, September 25
Grace UMC’s 7th Annual Music Feeds the Soul Concert
Sunday, October 23
Halloween 5K to Scare Hunger Away
Sunday, October 30
Fall Concert for CUMAC @ Butler UMC
Saturday, November 5
19th Annual HELP Dinner
Tuesday, November 15
Rev. Pat Bruger's Retirement Celebration
Thursday, April 27 (2017)