How do you transform a face-to-face ministry serving mothers and young children in a time of pandemic? This was the challenge facing North Porch Women & Infants’ Centers when board members met in early March to develop operational plans in response to COVID-19. North Porch’s 35-year-old ministry was founded to not only give out supplies, but also to provide a listening ear to mothers and other caregivers without the means to feed and diaper their little ones. Over the years, young mothers, including recent immigrants and the undocumented, have all received commonsense advice from the center coordinators, along with a bag of much-needed supplies. How was this ministry to be sustained at a time of social distancing?
A plan quickly formed to continue service as seamlessly as possible. Clients would no longer be able to walk into the centers but would receive screening over the phone to determine their needs. The Center Coordinators transitioned to work from home, where they fielded client calls, gathered family details, and determined needs. Cynthia Moricz deTecso, the Program Director, coordinated a team of board members to help pack bags of supplies that are now distributed by appointment at open air outdoor locations in Newark, Dover, Morristown, and Hackettstown. In Jersey City, a distribution system was developed to comply with health and safety regulations, based out of the Triangle Park Community Center.
The next challenge was to access the supplies needed to assist an ever-growing number of clients. With in-person worship suspended, the formerly-reliable supply of in-kind donations from parishes dwindled and funds had to be spent on the direct purchase of formula, baby food and diapers. Baby wipes and diapers became scarce as panic buying stripped supermarket shelves. Undaunted, our board members and long-time parish supporters have come through in creative ways. An Amazon Smile wish list has been developed so that parishes and individuals can send supplies directly to the Dover center, and financial contributions are being received through a PayPal account. A Madison business owner who is helping to raise awareness about food insecurity decided to include North Porch in an August donation drive. St. Peter’s, Mountain Lakes highlighted North Porch as one of the beneficiaries of an online fundraiser event in September. Despite all these efforts, supplies are flying out the door, and North Porch is still in urgent need of donations. Most needed items include diapers sizes 4,5, and 6, baby wipes, and Enfamil baby formula.
One bright spot at this time of growing hunger has been the amazing sharing between food pantries even though all are under pressure. In the past months, North Porch was the recipient of donations from Hope House in Morristown that had suspended food pantry service to their clients. North Porch was also able to share store-brand baby formula with Christ Church, Teaneck, and helps other parish-based pantries like St. Paul’s Chatham, when supply quantities permit.
North Porch is now on track to serve 5,000 children in 2020 – a dramatic increase over the 2019 total of 3,000 children. According to Moricz deTecso, many of the clients in the last few months are coming for assistance for the first time, having lost jobs and finding finances stretched. In July, she reported that 75% of the families seeking help were new to North Porch. At times, the need has seemed overwhelming.
“This has been a very difficult time for so many people, but especially for those who were already struggling to make ends meet,” said North Porch President, the Rev. Ellen Kohn-Perry. “I'm really proud of what we do here at North Porch. We have an amazing staff and volunteer board of trustees who stepped up to the task at hand and have been providing for so many in need. None of this would be possible without all of you – parishes, organizations and individuals – who have been so generous in helping us serve others. It takes a village to raise a child. Thank you all for coming together as a community to help our children."
The Diocese of Newark has set up online giving to support the diocese’s food-related ministries. Simply visit e-giving.dioceseofnewark.org and go to Area of Greatest Need: Food Pantries (second item from the top). Donations made from Sept. 23 through Oct. 20, 2020 will go to North Porch. You can also donate to North Porch through their PayPal account or their Amazon Smile wish list.