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A partnership that provides 10,000+ meals a week

Volunteers packing some of the hundreds of bags of food that will be distributed at St. Paul's, Englewood. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO
Nina Nicholson, Director of Communications
Volunteers packing some of the hundreds of bags of food that will be distributed at St. Paul's, Englewood. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

During the 150th anniversary celebration of St. Paul’s, Englewood in 2015, its members identified feeding people as one of the parish’s key values – addressing food insecurity and promoting healthy eating. Little did they know that eight years later, this discernment exercise would have led to a very fruitful partnership with a local organization, and that together they would distribute food to people in Bergen County sufficient to make an estimated 10,000 meals a week.

"We knew that God was calling us to something,” says the Rev. Dr. Bill Allport, Rector of St. Paul’s. “It has been amazing to help cultivate and share, through these partnerships, God's grace in our larger community."

Since 2015 St. Paul’s has engaged in a variety of efforts, including pop-up meals (supported by an Alleluia Fund grant); healthy eating programs with Englewood Health and Community Chest of Eastern Bergen County; and even a clergy cook-off. Then this past April, St. Paul’s began partnering with the Disabled Combat Veterans Youth Program (DCVYP) as the new site for DCVYP’s Table to Table Tuesday Food Distribution.

Founded in 2010 by Dionisio Cucuta, Jr. – known as Chef Dion – and his wife Stephanie Taylor-Cucuta, DCVYP offers after-school programs to teach life skills to underprivileged youth. These include “Culinary Cadets” in which Cucuta pulls from his experience as a cook in the Marines to teach culinary skills to young people.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Cucuta and Taylor-Cucuta responded to the need they saw in their community by establishing a local hub for the Table to Table food “rescue” organization. Table to Table collects fresh food that would otherwise be discarded from supermarkets, food distributors, restaurants and commercial kitchens, and delivers it free of charge to community organizations that help the food-insecure. When after three years DCVYP’s Tuesday Food Distribution program had outgrown its original site, First Baptist Church in Englewood, St. Paul’s agreed to become their new site.

“The space has made it much better for us – we can receive more food from other companies,” says Cucuta.

Bergen County, in which Englewood is located, is one of the wealthiest counties in New Jersey according to U.S. Census data, with a food insecurity rate in 2021 of only 6.7%, according to Feeding America. Although that’s one of the lowest rates in the state, it still accounts for 64,240 people who are food insecure and in need of assistance.

A typical Tuesday begins at 5 AM with Cucuta overseeing the delivery of thousands of pounds of food at St. Paul’s. Half a dozen local churches and non-profits – including the food pantry at Christ Church, Teaneck – send their volunteers to help unload the truck and take their portion of the food distribution.

By 8 AM, other volunteers have arrived to set up tables and sort and bag the remaining food, which will be handed out to individuals. Meanwhile in the kitchen, youth from one of DCVYP’s culinary programs help prepare a healthy lunch for the volunteers.

From 11 AM to noon, bags of food are distributed to the “walk-ups” from a table by the parking lot; then from noon to 1 PM drivers can pull up to the curbside pickup outside the side entrance on Church Street. Some of the volunteers deliver bags of food to shut-ins. Between 400 and 500 bags of food are distributed every Tuesday.

During this eight-hour period, counting both the food picked up by other food ministries for which St. Paul’s acts as a delivery base, as well as the bags given to individuals, food for more than 10,000 meals has been distributed through St. Paul’s.

Around 25 to 30 volunteers show up to work for several hours each Tuesday, from St. Paul’s, DCVYP and the wider community.

On a recent Tuesday Farida McDonald, a vestry member at St. Paul’s, is helping to sort fresh green beans. “As a breast cancer survivor of 22 years, I want to give back,” she says.

Over at the “Walk-up” table, Carolyn Milne of First Presbyterian Church in Englewood, says: “I'm blessed, and it's important to share.”

Setting up the tables for curbside pickup are Pedro Besonia and Jeffrey Johnson. Besonia, who has worked with DCVYP for two years, says that he’s a life-long volunteer, a habit he learned from his mother.

When asked why he volunteers, Johnson, a parishioner at St. Paul’s, paraphrases the Book of Matthew: “When you do it for needy, you do it for me.”

St. Paul’s, Englewood welcomes volunteers at the Table to Table Tuesday Food Distribution, both youth and adults, who are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations. For more information, email the Rev. Dr. Bill Allport.

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