For 43 years, the Center for Food Action has provided humanitarian assistance throughout Bergen and Passaic counties.
Patricia Espy has served as the executive director since 1987. The organization’s director of communications is Kelly Sirimoglu. The organization meets the needs of thousands of people in our area through its food bank and other services.
“This is a very generous community,” Kelly says. “Our weekend Snack Pack campaign consists of assembling packages of nutritious snacks to slip into the backpacks of children who eat subsidized lunches at school. Many times, children who receive food assistance do not eat well on the weekends. The Snack Pack campaign provides extra nutrition for these kids who really need it.”
The growing senior population is becoming a significant portion of the client ratio, now representing 21% of all CFA clients. In order to address this, CFA created a dinner kit for seniors complete with ingredients and recipes to make simple, home-cooked meals.
“Seniors stretch their food in order to make it last longer. … and many don’t tell their kids that they need aid. These extra meals help fill the gap between their regular food benefits while providing added nutrition,” Kelly says.
The organization also helps seniors with rental assistance and utilities.
CFA has a core of more than 200 regular volunteers who commit to specific days and times to help. They assemble packages, sort food, do administrative work, and assist clients in navigating the process.
“Our community of volunteers sees the immediate impact of helping people, and they love what they do,” Kelly says.
Groups, churches, synagogues and civic organizations participate in specific drives such as the holiday children’s pajama drive. CFA also runs donation campaigns for school backpacks, gently used Halloween costumes and pet food, as well as collections of new clothing. Its annual soup drive is held annually on Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving).
The organization also has relationships with local supermarkets where it can glean the soon-to-expire produce and pick up food with damaged boxes, which are deemed unsaleable.
Many of CFA's client families have two incomes and are still unable to rise above the poverty line. CFA originally started as an emergency center but now has many repeat clients who continue to remain income-eligible. There are other families who fall into crisis and only need help for a limited period of time. This can be caused by mounting medical bills or taking care of a sick child, which can force a parent to resign from their job.
“We want people to know that help is available,” Patricia says. “It’s hard to ask for help. We work to make our clients feel welcome and give them dignity and encouragement to come back again. They may come for a short time to get over a hurdle or long-term if they have nowhere else to go.”
“We give away more than $5 million worth of food and $800,000 toward rent and utilities. Another area we give a hand up is helping people to attain security deposits for new apartments,” Patricia says. “Some people return and pay back what they were given in order to help others. Some of our volunteers came in when they needed help, and now they give back as well.”
Kelly adds, “Life happens. Hunger and homelessness shouldn’t. You never know if it's going to be you. If things happen that you don’t plan for and you need assistance, there are resources for you to get help.”
Center for Food Action
90 Ridge Road, Mahwah
201.529.2029 – prospective clients to schedule an appointment
Click on CFANJ.org for donations, questions and volunteer information.