PATERSON, NJ - While the spread of COVID-19 may have altered their plans for Thanksgiving, the virus couldn’t break the spirit, or desire to give, of either Eva’s Village or 4th Ward Councilwoman Ruby Cotton Thursday.

As they have since 1982, then operating as a humble soup kitchen, staff and volunteers for the now massive, but still very much community driven, non-profit, took to the streets to distribute almost 400 meals, adding to the more than 180,000 they’ve given out since the pandemic began.

The unseasonably warm weather made the switch to an outside meal service easier to contend with, and also, Donna Fico, Director of Philanthropy said, allowed them to connect with their guests in a different way. Indeed, Fico, along with several of her colleagues, made their way down the line of waiting guests offering greetings, and, though behind face coverings, very evident warm smiles. 

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“We did not lose the family dynamic,” Fico said. “We are still making a personal connection, serving up dignity the way we were founded to.”

Kitchen Director Dave Bein was also on hand to help manage the operation, saying that their main objective was to help remove the anxiety many feel about not getting a meal. “We can take that piece off of them,” he said. “No one is going to go hungry.” Acknowledging the challenges that the virus has brought since March Bein continued that those being served every day, including nearly 200 that are participating in the organization’s residential programs, still, despite the struggles they may be facing, have the opportunity to be part of a community.

It was that community spirit, that brought Jennifer Barrett and Cindy Benjamin out as volunteers. “It feels good to do something nice, to live life with a purpose,” Barrett said before offering a very honest assessment that the altruism was “more for us” than those they’d serve. 

“I’m just happy to know the guests are getting something in their stomach, something made with love,” Benjamin added.

Armed with a meal, as well as winter hats that were also distributed, two of those that were served, Orlando Rodriguez and Brenda Ann Tyson, stopped to talk to TAPinto Paterson about how meaningful the nourishment is to them. “I don’t have family out here and I’d have nothing to eat,” Rodriguez said after offering his gratitude to Mayor Andre Sayegh who was also on hand for his efforts to “make Paterson a city that cares about everyone.”

Formerly incarcerated, Tyson felt a similar sense of support, as well as a deep appreciation for it. “There is opportunity here,” Tyson said of both Eva’s Village and the City of Paterson. “There is help for housing, food, clothes and rehabilitation."

Stopping for a few moments to contemplate the generosity on display at Eva’s Village, and now at his second stop at the Masonic Temple on Broadway, Sayegh shared his lament that he was seeing people in line that he knew, including those that have never had to rely on such help.

“It’s distressing,” he said before turning his attention to Cotton who was heading up the 37th annual Thanksgiving meal distribution, one that was founded by legendary former councilwoman Vera Ames.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic Councilwoman Cotton is undeterred in her desire to serve the less fortunate,” Sayegh said. “That spirit epitomizes what it means to be a public servant.”

As she is known to do, when asked about the work being done Cotton attempted to deflect the attention on to the numerous organizations, such as the Bronze Heat, Lady Royals, Families for Families, and Integrity Lodge, as they prepared to distribute their own 300 meals.

Honoring past volunteers that are since deceased, including her own husband, Ed Cotton, Councilwoman Cotton thought for a moment about those standing in line for the hot meal and said “it’s important that they feel wanted and that they are part of a family.”

“We do care about them,” Cotton said. “This is about family, about our Paterson family.”

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