BAYONNE, NJ - An alleged failure to conduct appropriate background checks on volunteers at a local soup kitchen forced a menu change on Saturday, and the delivery of cold sandwiches to residents in need, instead of the usual hot dinner. Some say politics is at play.
Established in 2008, the Bayonne Soup Kitchen provides hot meals every Saturday at 4:00 p.m., an effort undertaken by volunteers from various churches and civic organizations that alternate running the program. Nearly all the food is donated by the public, including local businesses.
The initial complaint came from Bayonne resident Mike Morris and was delivered via email to the Archdiocese of Newark. In it Morris shared his concern that the soup kitchen had not followed proper procedure, allowing volunteers to perform tasks necessary to serve the meals prior to them obtaining proper training or submitting to background checks.
“According to Larry Borland at the Archdiocese, his opinion was that everyone in the Soup Kitchen had to take the needed classes and to undergo a background check,” Morris said in an email he sent to Pastor Peter who oversees the soup kitchen program.
When contacted by TAPinto Bayonne Father Peter directed questions to the Archdiocese’s press office. While office staff acknowledged the request for comments they did not respond.
“We were scheduled to cook and serve meals on Saturday as we have done so many times in the past,” Peter Franco, one of the volunteers, and a local activist said in a statement. “However, after a complaint was made regarding some of the volunteers, we had to close the soup kitchen.”
Also a candidate in the election for First Ward council, Franco said that he has been involved with the soup kitchen for about four years, an effort he has expanded by including several of his campaign volunteers.
Franco said he was unaware of the requirement and had assumed that only the person in charge of the program was required to go through the two-hour on-line training program and background check.
Pointing to unconfirmed reports, John Cupo, also a candidate for the First Ward seat, raised the question whether or not an alleged criminal past would preclude someone from passing a background check.
“We can't have people around that kitchen unless they can also pass a background check,” Cupo said.
Franco, Cupo's opponent, said he has passed two background checks, one paid for at his own expense and another one he said was conducted by Father Peter.
Franco provided TAPinto Bayonne a document that appears to be the results of a search undertaken on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website that seems to give him a clean bill of criminal health, he said he also “gave Father Peter the information he needed to do one."
One volunteer who spoke on the condition of anonymity also called out any political motivation behind stirring this issue.
“Why do politicians need to pick on the most needy?” the volunteer asked. “The volunteers routinely give homeless and needy meals that they cannot otherwise get. The meal this week was supposed to be meatloaf, baked ziti, a side salad and desert. These people got sandwiches instead.”
“This is about giving needy people food,” another volunteer said.
“Thanks to our director and the generosity of another church, residents were provided to-go meals on Saturday,” Franco said. “The situation was unfortunate but at the end of the day the mission went on and people enjoyed a meal and that’s the most important thing.”
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