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God's providence is so vast

canned food
Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Friday Soup Kitchen at St. Andrew’s, Newark, reminds the Rev. Sylvester Ekunwe, the church’s Vicar, of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

“I’ve seen that God’s providence is so vast. It is something that we cannot exhaust even though we run low every week. We always have something to give,” he said. “I’ve learned that in whatever situation we are in, if we trust in God, the Holy Spirit is there to provide and to give us what we need at the time.”

The need is great in St. Andrew’s neighborhood, which touches Newark, Hillside and Irvington, Fr. Ekunwe said. Many people are homeless, many are unemployed. It’s been that way for years and it’s why the soup kitchen started more than 20 years ago.

Now, with more and more people getting furloughed, the need is growing at the same time the feeding ministry has had to change the way it operates to protect both its guests and its volunteers. Its sit-down Friday meal in St. Andrew’s parish hall is no longer served. In mid-March, the ministry began filling grocery bags with canned good and other packaged, ready-to-eat foods to give away to people on Fridays. The shelves were soon bare.

The Holy Spirit moves in many ways, and St. James, Upper Montclair, replenished the shelves, as did United Presbyterian in West Orange. But, Fr. Ekunwe said, the donations were quickly given away. “Whatever we have right now, we can give out on Friday,” he said.

When the food is gone, St. Andrew’s refers people to United Community Corp., a community action agency founded in Newark in 1965 which rents the parish rectory. The agency has some food to give out. It refers people to other services.

The number of people coming to St. Andrew’s on Fridays has dropped over the last three weeks “because they know that we are trying to ration” the food available to give away, Fr. Ekunwe said. Bags which early on had 15 or more cans and boxes now only have about five or six. Between 45 and 60 people are now coming each Friday.

When parishioners who have lost their jobs or who are older and cannot safely go shopping call the church to say they are running low, Fr. Ekunwe also delivers food to their doorstep. On Mother’s Day he brought food to three such members after he finished livestreaming the Sunday service.

God has shown up in the midst of this weekly scramble. “This has taught me that humanity has so much love,” he said. Yet, sometimes, it takes some kind of disaster to bring it out, he added. “I have seen a whole lot of love.”

Fr. Ekunwe has seen guests offer others some of their food because they think they have too much and they know the other person has more people they are trying to help.

The soup kitchen welcomes monetary donations to buy food.

And, while the shelves need to be full each Friday, Fr. Ekunwe knows the soup kitchen must think beyond the end of each week. “The way I am seeing things, this is going to be a long haul,” he said. “Whatever anybody could donate will be very helpful because we know we are going in need for a long, long time.”

Donations by check should be made out to St. Andrew's Church with "food pantry" in the memo line, and mailed to St. Andrew’s Church, 933 South 17th Street, Newark, NJ 07108.