BAYONNE, NJ - “We started Hunger Free Bayonne three years ago, me, my mother, and two of my friends out of the back seat of our cars,” said Stephanie Glover Wilson, founding member of a county-wide food distribution network for seniors, poor and others in need. “As we went along, we got bigger, and we needed more space.”
The group found that space at a Bayonne Economic Opportunity Fund building. “When we got too big for that space, we went to Trinity Lutheran Church,” Wilson said. But newly established social distancing guidelines have made it impossible to distribute out from there.
“We did not want people lining up to wait for their food,” Wilson said. “Then (Council President) Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski helped get us space at the 16th Street Park.”
With the help of volunteers from Grace Lutheran, Wallace AME, Friendship, and other churches, as well as volunteers from as far away as Pennsylvania, the group served 962 people Saturday.
“We don’t ask for identification,” Wilson told TAPinto Bayonne, adding that right now their primary function is to help the poor and those who have been put out of work by COVID-19, making sure they have fresh food to cook in their homes. “Many people feel embarrassed enough without our adding to it.”
The food they give away comes from donations, including Table to Table (a north Jersey food distribution network) and most recently, Costco. “That’s a big relief,” she said. “We’re trying to tap into other companies, including neighborhood bakeries.” While some food establishments fear the liability of donating their products Wilson assured that her group falls under the Good Samaritan Act, a federal law aimed at encouraging the donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals and protects groups distributing food and their donors from being sued.
The group receives no public funding and is always in search of donations to continue their work, including finding additional space so that they can store food. “When people donate to us now, we have to give it all away right away,” Wilson said. “If we had someplace where we could store some – even a trailer – we could respond to an emergency.”
Before the current public health crisis struck Hunger Free Bayonne did regular food pickups and deliveries for the inbound. “We had ten drivers but needed more,” Wilson said. With COVID-19, the need for the group is even greater because many more people cannot leave their homes.
“We have 42 volunteers. We don’t pay them. If I had money, I would take them all on a cruise. I may have founded it, but they are what makes the program work. We are all like a family, going to each other’s weddings and baby showers.”
Wilson started as a teacher at St. Patrick’s elementary school in Jersey City. She later taught at Lincoln School and Oresko schools in Bayonne before going on to join WomenRising helping battered women through welfare to work programs – including with the Hudson County Correctional Facility where she was a social worker and community liaison, helping ex-offenders get back into the community.
A number of those she helped, Wilson added, have become volunteers for her food program, which she said helped them make up for the bad things they might have done in their lives and to become involved with the community by helping the needy.
The COVID-19 lock-down affected her job. “I’m not allowed back in the jail” she said.
Going forward, Wilson is hoping to obtain a 501c3 tax status for Hunger Free Bayonne, and also change its name to Heroes Against Hunger. “These people (volunteers) are heroes who risk their health and lives to help other people,” Wilson said.
For the time being Hunger Free Bayonne will continue to distribute their food on Saturdays from the 16th Street Park, usually between 10:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., all while maintaining standards to help slow the spread of coronavirus. “We want everybody to have a little bit of everything,” she said. “We do all this standing six feet away from each other. If you have a car, you can pull it up to each station, and we will put the food in your car for you.”
Follow Hunger Free Bayonne on Facebook to learn more about their efforts, as well updates on special food distributions such as the 500 cartons of eggs they recently gave away. The page, Wilson said, also includes pictures of families cooking the food they gave out. “Others can learn how to cook things by looking at the pictures we post.”
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