Religions and Spirituality

Intimate Interview with Sister Barbara, UNICO Citizen of the Year

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Sister Barbara of St. Philomena's Church in Livingston
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LIVINGSTON, NJ – She got her calling when she was in high school. “When I was in high school I was doing things just to do them. I figured if I don’t go now I’ll never go,” said Sister Barbara. 

The rest seems to be history for the citizens of Livingston. Well-known for her generous heart and talent for delegation, Sister Barbara has served the Livingston Community from St. Philomena’s Church for 21 Years.  Her most recent recognition as UNICO Citizen of the Year hangs last in a row of honors and awards given to her through out her career.

Even with all of her decades of dedication and humanitarian success, Sister Barbara remains as humble as can be. Andrea Ubaldi, member of UNICO and volunteer for ‘Stuff the Bus’ initiative says that, “Sister Barbara is an inspiration. I know her thru Stuff the bus and she has been a guest on our show.  She didn't think she deserved to be citizen of the year at first. She has no idea the impact she has on our community.”

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Early in her life as a nun, Sister Barbara met her hero, Dorothy Day.  “I remember one of the nuns at my convent asked me to go with her.  Dorothy had a house in the bowery and she had different speakers every Friday night that came to talk about the poor.” Sister Barbara volunteered with Dorothy that same summer.

Sister Barbara started her career as a school teacher. She also served as the associated superintendent for the Archdiocese of Newark and as Principal of Blessed Sacrament in Franklin Lakes. “I did the whole gambit of teaching.”

After spending her first six years at St. Phil’s as a Youth Minister, Sister Barbara slowly started to feel drawn to “home-bound outreach” and ministering to the sick and poor.  She began to work with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a program designed to help homeless families prosper.  “I don’t know how I got into food collection from there.  It just kind of happened!”

With some passing time, Sister Barbara became a member of the Interfaith Clergy Association in Livingston and was instrumental in forming the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW). 

“At a meeting we talked about people who need help and the fact that no one knows what another house of worship is doing for those people,” explained Sister Barbara.  “Number one, it’s embarrassing for someone to have to go from house to house with the same plea and number two, it wasn’t an efficient way for a person to be served properly.”

It was decided that St. Phil’s would be the distribution center because it was centrally located, open most hours and had a tremendous storage closet.  CHOW filed to become an official not-for-profit organization in 2011.

This May will be CHOW’s 2nd Annual ‘Stuff the Bus’ campaign in which the community is called to “literally, stuff the bus!” explained Sister Barbara.  Last year CHOW’s bus was filled to the ceiling with food.  It made stops at all of the schools, the town library, and Senior Community Center. 

This year ‘Stuff the Bus’ is planning to make more stops.  “If anyone wants us to make a stop we try to do it.”

Outside of her work with CHOW, Sister Barbara has made St. Phil’s well known as a central drop off zone for food, clothing and other supplies.  She has even become known in surrounding areas as the go-to person for questions about charity. 

“The Prudential Center called me once and asked if I would pick up left over food.”  On another occasion a Bank of America branch called Sister Barbara and asked if she would redistribute left over office supplies, as they were leaving there current location. 

“I don’t know how they knew to call me or who told them to call me,” explained Sister Barbara.  “I said ‘yes of course’ and then called the school system in Newark to see if they could use any of it.”

In addition to distributing food and other resources to local shelters and food pantries, Sister Barbara takes care of Livingston residence as well.  “Everyone is welcome.  Anyone that needs food will get food.”

She emphasized the need in her own town for food and clothing, “Some people thing that there aren’t Livingston residents who need things but they are wrong.  You never know what happens behind closed doors.”

Sister Barbara relies on many volunteers who donate their time from different local houses of worship and other Livingston citizens.  “All of this wouldn’t be if it weren’t for all the people behind me.” 

Her wish is to leave behind a path to a bigger and better program.  “I would like the program to expand and for Livingston to keep it running.  I feel comfortable because there are so many people and houses of worship involved.  It will go on.”

For more information about CHOW – how you can give or how you can receive – contact Sister Barbara at St. Philomena’s Church in Livingston.

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