Our volunteers understand that food insecurity is an issue that 1.1 million New Jerseyans face. For some of them, that understanding comes from living with hunger.
These volunteers were – or still are – clients, visiting our partner charities to enjoy a home-cooked meal and grab a bag of groceries for their families. Volunteering is an opportunity for them to support a struggle that hits home.
Karen and Stacey are two clients who volunteer at The Blake House in Newark, one of CFBNJ’s more than 1,000 partner agencies. The pantry and soup kitchen gave them a helping hand when they needed it, and now they’re giving back.
“Years ago I used to come as a client to get food for my family,” 61-year-old Karen told us. “I had a part-time job and I had five kids, just financial hardship.”
She received government aid to feed her family, but coming to The Blake House for a bag of food helped when buying much-needed items was out of her budget.
“Just because you work, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need help,” she added.
Karen volunteers every day, packing hundreds of bags with food, visiting the FoodBank to pick up additional items, and greeting clients who come to visit.
She’s been volunteering at the agency for 14 years. When she first started, she would bring her newborn grandson with her. He even got the nickname “pantry baby,” and he now volunteers regularly.
Stacey shares a similar story. The 39-year-old was homeless for a year and a half, and visited agencies in the community for food. Health issues forced her to leave her job, which led to financial difficulties.
When she started coming to The Blake House, she noticed they were mainly serving sandwiches. That’s when Stacey volunteered her services and became the soup kitchen’s cook, preparing eight meals every week for the last two years.
“You set your day up, you interact with people, you serve them a good meal, you talk with them for a little while and you just help them through the day,” Stacey said about her work.
Just like Karen, Stacey’s family is also involved in the effort. Her daughter, a graduate of our Food Service Training Academy, sometimes volunteers with her mother.
Stacey still visits our partner charities from time-to-time to provide food for her family. She finds volunteering to be fulfilling.
“To be able to help the next person that’s going through what I went through,” is why Stacey volunteers.
“Just to let them know that there is hope after homelessness.”