A Conversation With Kayann
By Adrian Diaz
It is with great pleasure that we introduce Kayann, CUMAC’s newest team member. Kayann was hired in December through the AmeriCorps program and we are excited about the wonderful talent she brings to our team. If you’ve been around our building recently you’ve most likely seen Kayann giving tours, leading volunteer projects or helping out in the office. Wanting to get to know our new Volunteer Liaison, I sat down with Kayann to learn more about her life and what led her to CUMAC. I walked away amazed by her story.
Several years ago, Kayann and her family fell on hard times. After losing her job, Kayann struggled to pay the bills and couldn’t afford to keep their apartment. “We fell into a long cycle of being homeless, on and off, that lasted for a few years” says Kayann. The instability created by not having a place to call home was hard on their family, and Kayann often didn’t know where they would stay or how she would feed her children. Fortunately, Kayann found CUMAC, and the groceries she received allowed her to keep food on the table during times of great need. She remembers how scared and embarrassed she was when visiting CUMAC for the first time. She had never needed help in her life and suddenly she was no longer able to provide for her family. It was terrifying. But Kayann’s concerns disappeared the moment she walked through CUMAC’s doors. She remembers the care and attention of the staff, that immediately made her feel at home.
“Not having a home, there were opportunities I had to pass up” says Kayann. “Commuting was a nightmare because I didn’t know where I was going to be from night to night, or how was I going to get to work the next day.” This made finding and keeping a job extremely difficult. At times she worried her family’s situation would never improve, but Kayann remained sanguine. Finally, after years of instability, she and her family found a place to call home. She hoped a job would soon follow. She searched for jobs constantly, but had little luck. Still, she kept applying. Months later, she eventually found herself back at CUMAC — this time for an interview. She’s been helping us fight hunger ever since.
For Kayann, working as our volunteer liaison has been an incredible learning opportunity. With just a staff of 20 and limited resources, CUMAC’s work is largely made possible through the efforts of our volunteers and our supporters. As a client, Kayann never realized how many people were fighting hunger in her community. “It’s given me hope. You might think that nobody cares about anyone and then you see all the volunteers, big groups, coming here on their own, holding food drives and wanting to help. It changes your perspective.”
Kayann’s time with CUMAC has also been an enlightening experience for our volunteers. Being able to hear firsthand from Kayann about hunger helps shine a light on a silent crisis affecting over 1 million people in New Jersey. It also gives many a new appreciation for the project they’re working on. Kayann tells us that she’s really enjoyed the opportunities to educate others and have meaningful conversations around hunger and homelessness. “I always hated telling my story,” says Kayann. “But now I realize there’s power in telling others.”
Over the last two months we’ve seen Kayann really grow into her position. She says that support from the staff has boosted her confidence to new heights. She’s passionate about her role and excited for what lies ahead. She tells us that she’s interested in pursuing a career in the nonprofit world, and would like to use her new found voice to become an advocate within her community.
“This has been really good experience for me and for my children —especially for my oldest. I feel great setting an example for her. I get up, go to work, and I think it shows her that you just keep going, no matter what. I hope that I’m a good role model and they see that mommy didn’t give up even when she was scared or upset. I hope that sinks in with her and with all my kids.”
When I ask Kayann about what CUMAC has meant to her, she puts on a big smile. “I love how everyone is treated with such dignity. I know what it feels like when you’re down and low. At CUMAC, you feel like you’re not being judged at all. You’re just getting the help you need. It’s almost like neighbor to neighbor. You need a bag of food? Here you go! And that touches me in a way that’s very powerful. It means a lot to me.”
Kayann, thank you sharing your story and for all that you do to help feed people & change lives. We’re lucky to have you on our team!
CUMAC's New Development Director
We're pleased to announce that Stephanie Ames is CUMAC's new 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.
"It has been such a blessing to work with CUMAC's volunteers for the past 8 years. They've inspired me every day with their kindness, compassion and power to make the world a better place" says Stephanie. "I'm excited to work with CUMAC's friends and allies in this new capacity to ensure that together we are providing the best possible care for all who come to us. Over the next few years CUMAC is working toward a number of incredibly ambitious goals in order to better serve our community. It's thrilling to take on this new role during such exciting times!"
With Stephanie’s talent and enthusiasm, we know CUMAC’s development team is in great hands. Congratulations, Stephanie.
Strategically Planning For Our Future
By Rose Peligri
In recent years, CUMAC has witnessed unprecedented growth in the number of people coming to us in need of our feeding programs, disaster relief services, affordable housing and job training possibilities. Very often, meeting this increase in need requires a leap of faith to grow our feeding efforts exponentially in the face of pervasive hunger and pursue new opportunities to care for those who need us most with trust that the resources necessary to run our programs will follow. Other times, we have been deliberate in setting our course of action by creating a roadmap that guides our decisions.
As 2016 began, CUMAC’s staff coupled with enthusiastic support from the Board of Trustees embarked on an ambitious and exciting strategic planning process. The process took most of the year but allowed us to collectively brainstorm what we are good at, where we need improvement and establish guidelines to support our decisions. The plan was finalized in October and outlines CUMAC’s mission and purposes and will guide the organization’s operation and development over the next four years. Continuing our 30 year mission to feed people and change lives, we remain committed to serve the poor while working to alleviate hunger and its root causes for those in need in Paterson, Passaic County and northern New Jersey.
At our core, we serve low income individuals in need of some of life’s basic necessities, such as food, water and clothing, with compassion, kindness and love. The feeding people part of the mission is straight forward. We have uniquely positioned ourselves to provide immediate and direct help to individuals with present and perhaps emergent needs. The “changing lives” comes into play in our ongoing efforts to provide job training, encourage independence and to advocate for the disenfranchised. At every level of engagement, CUMAC staff seeks to promote individual dignity and to serve with loving hearts.
The objectives and strategic direction set forth in the plan are based on the environment that CUMAC operates in and an assessment of the strengths we have and the challenges we face. At the end of a detailed and arduous evaluation process, we formulated four important objectives. The most critical objective being the successful management of CUMAC leadership throughout 2017, as our beloved and visionary Executive Director, Reverend Patricia Bruger, retires after 27 years at the helm. Additional objectives include achieving financial stability, developing and beginning implementation of a new facilities plan and strengthening our programs to move clients toward self sufficiency. As we begin to work our way through the strategies and goals that we have established for CUMAC, our strong alliances with donors, volunteers and community partners help to support our mission and allow us to accomplish our work. We are grateful.
Holiday Wish List
By Jenn Miller
Last summer I began preparation for CUMAC’s Holiday Wish List. For those of you unfamiliar with this program it is our way of bringing joy to local youth during the holiday season. We connect with these children by working with various agencies, shelters, adoption advocates, and churches. This year we worked with a total of 14 agencies and provided gifts to over 1,000 children in need. We help all children, from newborns to high schoolers. Each child asks for whatever they wish. The true spirit of the program is to give each child that incredible feeling of waking up and seeing that one special toy or game.
This program is a huge undertaking and it takes several months of planning and collaboration to ensure its success. This year I learned that even with endless preparation, the unexpected can still happen.
About a week away from our deadline to have all gifts received, I called one of our partner agencies to finalize details and schedule a pick up time. The call quickly became nerve wracking when we realized that a small miscommunication had left 100 names and wishes forgotten. I can only hope that in reading this, you can picture how panicked and alarmed someone could feel at that moment. If we didn’t act fast, 100 children would go to bed on Christmas Eve, maybe putting out milk and cookies for Santa, expecting a wonderful gift the next morning … only to awaken on Christmas morning with nothing! To make matters worse, I received a call that same day and learned that another agency had expected a donation from one of their donors for 30 gifts and they too were not coming. Again…can you imagine the panic? But this emotion was not what I felt on that day. I was not suddenly riddled with concern for these 130 children. Why not, you ask? The answer is simple and it is and the reason why we are able to continue this incredible program year after year: our donors. With the help of our donors, we were able to fill these wishes in just a few days.
The Wish List program continues to get bigger and better every year because of the tremendous support we receive. We have local companies call who want to bring toys from drives they hold and wonderful churches which do the same. All of our various community partners really come together and embrace this program. They put forth so much of their time, money, and effort. I cannot even begin to put into words what it means to CUMAC and especially to these families and children in need.
When thinking about this year’s program, I keep thinking about how lucky I was work with all of you who supported the program. Thanks to everyone who participated my job was so much easier. I hope if you are a donor who participates in the program that you continue and if you are new to CUMAC that you reach out to me and ask how you too can help make a child’s wish come true.
When Times Get Tough
Angela has been coming to CUMAC for a few years now. She is a kind woman, and always lights up the room with her smile and positivity. Despite working full time, Angela often finds herself struggling to make ends meet. CUMAC's pantry has helped Angela keep food on the table for her and her son. Our Community Closet has also allowed Angela to buy clothing or houseware whenever she needs it, even on a tight budget. However, Angela recently received a phone call that turned her whole world upside down.
Angela’s father, “Papi”, suffered a massive heart attack, leaving him in critical condition. For Angela, the entire event came as a huge shock. At just 51 years old, Papi had always been a picture of health. “He was healthy all the time and he was always there for us” says Angela. After the heart attack, he was rushed to the hospital and needed surgery right away. Though doctors were able to save him, the surgery left him weak and unable to use his right arm. “His heart stopped twice in the hospital. They saved him.” says Angela. “I have to thank God.”
After months of therapy and recovery, Papi finally came home. However, he was still too weak to work and his family started to worry about his extra medical expenses. Thankfully Angela knew exactly where to go for help. Using CUMAC’s disaster relief services, Angela was able to leave CUMAC with a shower chair, a cane, a walker, a special pillow that accommodates new medical needs and many other items to make her father’s recovery as easy as possible. Her family says those items would have been too expensive in stores, much more than they would have ever been able to afford.
Papi has a long road ahead, but he continues to be in good spirits. Since coming home he’s needed another surgery, but he’s currently in rehabilitation and Angela and family are thrilled to see him progressing every week. With his new supplies, he has the support he needs to be more independent and they are thankful for that.
Every time Angela comes to visit our Community Closet now she’s greeted with a big hug. As Angela and her family continue to tackle the challenges they face, Teresa and our team are always ready to lend a helping hand or a listening ear. “CUMAC is a blessing to a lot of people in need” says Angela. “I’m grateful for CUMAC and to all people who work here, helping people. I’m very grateful.”
Through your donations, CUMAC is able to help clients like Angela and her family. It warms our heart to hear stories like this. Thank you for making it possible.
Make A Difference with CUMAC
With your support, CUMAC's pantries are serving over 3,000 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 prepare for another busy year, we ask you to please consider making a donation this month. $50 will feed a family of four for a week. $60 will keep our trucks on the road for a full day, allowing us to rescue, transport & distribute food to our community. Every gift, large or small, truly makes a difference. Help keep our neighbors hunger-free & donate today!
Want to fight hunger year-round? Become a monthly supporter.
Pat Bruger's Retirement Celebration
After more than two decades of feeding people & changing lives, our Executive Director Rev. Pat Bruger will be retiring from her position this summer. Come celebrate Pat and her incredible career at her retirement dinner on Thursday, April 27, 2017 at The Fiesta in Wood-Ridge, NJ. It will be a festive evening, featuring a hospitality hour, music, dancing, dinner and some special surprises. It's sure to be a night to remember. We hope to see you there!
Get your tickets today! Early bird pricing ends after Monday, March 6. Questions? Contact Jennifer Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-742-5518. Sponsorship opportunities are now available. Learn more here.
Around the Community
The CUMAC Souper Bowl was a huge success! We’d like to thank everyone that participated this year. Together, we collected thousands of pounds of food. Team Blue won the Souper Bowl, beating Team Red by just 50 points! However, there are no winners or losers, because all donations are keeping our neighbors hunger-free this season. We’d like to send a special thank you to Charles Olbon School, AT&T, Midland Park High School, Team Briggs, Midland Park UMC, and Barnert Temple for their incredible efforts.
Every year our friends at Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church put up a special Christmas tree, called the "mitten tree", where people can donate mittens, hats, scarves and other winter items for those in need. The items from the collection were given out to our clients last month to protect them from the frigid weather. Check out the hat and gloves we gave to this adorable boy in our pantry. Thanks Franklin Lakes UMC for helping us keep our neighbors warm this winter!
Maya, a 9 year old, from Glen Rock, NJ turned her last birthday into an opportunity to feed the hungry. For her birthday party 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. This marks the third year in a row that Maya has celebrated her birthday with a special collection for CUMAC. 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 for helping us feed people & change lives!
Did you enjoy our newsletter? If so, check out our blog!
From Our Blog
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. Want to know what it’s like to hit the road with him? Visit our blog.