Essential Food Distribution

by Ahmad Graves-El

As we are all coming to grips with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple organizations and local residents are teaming up to help those in need. On March 27, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, with assistance from the Cumberland County Human Services Division of Mental Health & Addiction, held the Essential Food Distribution event in the parking lot behind the Vineland Post Office.

This free event, similar to the recent pop-up shop trend, was the brainchild of Millie Maddness, network engagement specialist for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

“It’s very difficult for people to gain access to food and healthy food,” Maddness said. “So, we’re here to fill that gap and fill that need.”

Maddness and the volunteers practiced social-distancing while bringing boxes of food to people who came to this event.

“We’re giving essential emergency food and fresh produce,” said Maddness. “We have boxes [filled] with non-perishables and we also have potatoes and cauliflower, [etc.].”

Those whose families consisted of five or more members received two large boxes of non-perishables and four bags of fresh produce, while those whose families range from three or less received one large box of non-perishables and two bags of fresh produce.

These products were also available to those who live the single life, as well.

Some of the people who attended the Essential Food Distribution event learned about it through Facebook. Others discovered it simply by walking by or passing through the area.

“I was riding by on my bicycle and I said ‘ooh let me stop by and check this out,’ ” said Charles Loudance, a Vineland resident.

Loudance was happy he stumbled upon this event because, he said, “I’m in need of food.”

Melissa Niles, who wears many hats at the Cumberland County Division of Human Services, including department head, wore the headdress of a volunteer for this event.

“We’re just here to support the people and Millie is a friend of mine,” said Niles. “She contacted me and told me what she was doing, and I said ‘absolutely I’m going to come out.’ ”

After the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the volunteers travelled around the city to deliver more food.

Pako Gomez, career coach with Employment Services, NJ Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development, worked along with Maddness and Niles at the event.

Maddness, who lives in Vineland, was delighted she was able to play an important role in helping local residents, and received good vibes from community members.

“I’ve had an overwhelmingly welcoming response from the people that are picking up food and from the agencies here, such as the Cumberland County Division of Human Services that are here alongside the Community FoodBank [helping to feed] these people,” she said.

“It’s been a humbling experience.”

“We’re bonded by a wordless language, empathy,” Niles added. “We’re caring for our community, that’s why we’re here.”

Although Loudance, who is struggling to maintain during our current health emergency, was a recipient of the free food, he still shared an uplifting message he’d like us all to abide by: “This crisis I think woke everybody up. Like Tupac said, ‘Keep Your Head Up.’ ”

For more information about future Essential Food Distribution events and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey contact Millie Maddness at msanchez@cfbnj.org.

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