A conversation between a young client and Bea O’Rourke, a former CFA staff member:
“Why do you have orange balls in the refrigerator? I looked down at this wonderful little seven-year old with disbelief…” I remove several oranges from the fridge and sit the little ones down on the Center floor. “Look at what I can do with these orange balls,” I start peeling the skin from one orange and ask their mother if they can have a taste. We are waiting for the Food Stamp office to call back. The orange ball is leaking and running down my hand. I tell them not to worry and hand them each an orange. They peel the skin; the orange leaks. I show them you can taste the orange for a sweet surprise. They are leery but Mom says O.K. The children shiver from their first taste, lick their lips, giggle and continue eating the fruit. Their mother tells Bea she never had money to buy oranges.
This year, the Center for Food Action is celebrating 40 years of commitment and service to the community; 40 years of life changing moments.
Started by the late singer Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres as World Hunger Year New Jersey, the agency originally focused on the global causes of world hunger but within months of its start, it became evident that some people in our own community needed help in order to put food on their tables.
Since our early days when the organization’s first director, Bill Wildey, said, “You don’t have to travel to Bangladesh or the urban ghetto to find people who are hungry. Just look in your own backyard”, we have focused our work on helping local families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.
In CFA’s first year 507 people received food. Ten years later, CFA distributed 5,107 emergency food packages. Ten years after that the number grew to 23,230. During these decades CFA opened additional sites and the number of people needing help continued to climb. In 2015, CFA distributed more than 65,000 food packages to 17,000 different people.
CFA also began providing homelessness prevention and utility assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable in our community. The first year, 96 families got help to pay their rent, lights or heating bills. Now, more than 1,500 families receive this aid.
In 1980, CFA established a statewide component to work on ending hunger in New Jersey. Now called the NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition (NJAHC), it provides training and technical assistance to pantries and soup kitchens across the state and serves as a voice for hungry people and for the front line providers who help them.
From the very beginning, CFA has relied on volunteers to do much of the work needed and today volunteers play a key role in CFA’s mission to end hunger and homelessness in our community.
CFA’s clients are children and senior citizens; many are living with serious health problems and many work, but still live in poverty. They are our neighbors. CFA’s accomplishments over the past 40 years are thanks to the many caring people in our community who support CFA’s efforts.
Key activities include:
•Providing seven-day food packages to 4,700 people each month, distributing more than $5,000,000 worth of food annually to residents living in 100 northern New Jersey towns
•Helping 1,500 families annually with their housing and utility expenses, providing nearly $1,500,000 in financial assistance to cover these critical
•Offering case management to thousands of households in need.
•Providing nearly 19,000 snack packs to low-income children each year
•Rescuing food from area supermarkets
•Growing fresh produce in our community garden
•Distributing smile packs to aid our youngest clients in maintaining good dental health
•Offering healthy cooking demonstrations for parents and their children.