LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Bob Dombrowski has been a very busy man this spring. The lifelong Township resident spends most of his time volunteering at the St. Agnes Food Pantry to try to help those in need. Lately it's become non-stop since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Dombrowski has always had a passion for helping others and for as long as he can remember has been involved with some kind of charitable organization. He attributes that to having gone through his share of hardships throughout his life.
"Losing my father at a young age, my mother's dementia, and all the flood emergencies that have occurred here in town just made me know what it's like to need help," he said.
After graduating from Passaic Valley High School in 1979, he went to work for an assortment of jobs, including the food industry, working as a driver, and becoming a counselor for recovering substance abuse addicts. He found that helping others was the most rewarding occupation out of all things he's done.
"My father died suddenly from a heart attack when I was in third grade, and my mother had to work several jobs to support my brother, my sister and I," he recalled. "We struggled and it was very difficult, so I have a keen understanding of what it's like. This is why I've made it point to always give to many organizations, like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. They were always helpful to us while I was growing up and especially after all the numerous floods we dealt with. We weren't able to afford flood insurance because the deductible was very high as our house was located in the Singac section of town, so we'd get hit pretty hard."
Dombrowski experienced other hard times in his life as a recovering alcoholic, which he says he's grateful for the help he received from Straight and Narrow, Inc., based in Paterson.
"I'm 17 years sober this year. I received a lot of help from them and graduated from the program in 2003," he added.
He eventually became a counselor and began to help young people overcome their addiction.
"It takes a lot of work but it's what you make of it. If you don't put anything in it, you're not going to get anything out of it," he explained.
Additionally, he's volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club in Lodi and Eva's Kitchen in Paterson.
Dombrowski eventually had to care for his mother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. When she died in 2016, he ultimately sold the family home and now rents in town. As a longtime member of Our Lady of the Holy Angels Catholic Church, he frequently donates his time assisting the food pantry, including the St. Agnes Food Pantry.
During the recent months of the pandemic, he and Pat Keating coordinated the efforts of making sure many families have had enough food items delivered to their vehicles or their residences.
"I remember I was in that position with my family growing up and trying to make ends meet," he said. "I recall once when we couldn't find a turkey and the local pantry came and brought a turkey dinner to us just in time for Thanksgiving. It meant so much and I'll never forget it. These memories are what propels me to want to help others and assist with the local pantries."
He added that many people, especially seniors, couldn't venture out during the recent quarantine and needed somehow to have food delivered to them, which is when he stepped up.
Making food runs to ShopRite of Little Falls in order to purchase groceries from donated funds has been a weekly ritual, especially with the extended hours of the pantry, which now runs every Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Besides distributing groceries to those who come by to pick up items from the pantry, he also makes deliveries to residences.
He acknowledged many ShopRite of Little Falls staff workers for their assistance during the crisis.
"Rich Greco, general manager, has been great along with many other staffers, " he added. "We're able to get these food items and deliver them to those who need them. We usually have 150 grocery bags ready at the pantry each and every week. My worst fear is running out of food, even for just one person. It would ruin my whole process for the following week."
Dombrowski also said it shouldn't have to take a tragedy or pandemic to motivate those to donate or volunteer.
"I see it happen during the holidays where there is a lot of giving for the season, but once January kicks in, it slows down," he further added. "It's my pet peeve."
Taking extra trips to organizations like the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, a community-based food rescue program, has also been on his schedule lately.
"I'm very persistent with making sure we'll have a bounty of food items to stock our pantry, and they've been absolutely fantastic," he noted."I also want to thank Little Falls Mayor James Damiano, Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark and Rep. Mikie Sherrill from the 11th Congressional District in New Jersey, who have been very supportive through the years of our local pantries.
"I really love trying to make a difference in people's lives," Dombrowski added.