MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Community Outreach Program for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has a mission to deliver food donations to ministries within the community and bring food to those who find themselves in a time of need. Eventhough the church building was closed and combined with another parish, volunteers from OLMC still serve the community together.
The group consists of approximately 30 volunteers, who over the past few months, during the pandemic, worked every single day to supply food, necessary items, baked goods and necessities to more than 60,000 people, organizers say.
Raffaele Marzullo and his sister Marialena Marzullo, previously owners of Marzullo's Restaurant on Grove Street in Montclair, have spearheaded efforts to support the community as parishioners of Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. They started a few years ago but more recently created their own 501C3 with 6 board members along with 10 advisors including former Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson.
Marialena said they started by taking meals to Toni’s Kitchen, but now support many others. “We support Meals on Wheels, MESH, Toni’s Kitchen, The Human Needs Food Pantry, Salvation Army...”.
She said they endeavor to recognize specific needs and coordinate deliveries to those in need. For example, at the onset of the pandemic when the local hospital was overrun, they realized first responders had some basic needs.
“We delivered grocery items to hospitals after shifts, so they could take groceries home. So, as they worked crazy hours during a pandemic, they didn’t have to shop.”
They’ve also partnered with Mike Guerriero, who owns Gelati by Mike in Montclair. Marilena said at one point she had a lead on someone donating milk or another entity with extra fruit. She would facilitate ensuring that the donations were utilized. In this case, she said Mike would spin it into ice cream and deliver that ice cream to any of the outfits above, who need supplies in order to take care of our community’s needs.
She said that sometimes food is not the only way to help.
“Sometimes when produce reaches us it’s not in the best condition.” said Marilena, emphasizing that it’s important to not be wasteful and to understand how to best utilize what is available and when.
On occasion, they provide monetary support. For instance, they wanted to support refugees at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and did so by helping fund a community garden through bake sales.
This group thinks out of the box - they are masters at connecting the dots. Marielena works for KPMG and knew they had a big inventory of tote bags. She asked them to donate several hundred tote bags which the Community Outreach Program then filled with items like snacks, soaps and personal care items for the first responders.
“I was always charitable in my former career. I was the co-chair of a philanthropy committee,” said Marilena, who comes from a small town in Italy, “...where we all took care of each other”.
Marilena mentioned that St. Mary's Food Pantry from the parish, was closed during the past months. However, The Community Outreach Program had managed to stay open and active during the entire time.
“When there’s a need, that is when you need to act,” said Marilena.
During their time as restaurateurs, she and her brother would prepare quarts of soup or bread for Monsignor Capozelli to provide to people in need.
Although she has always been philanthropic by nature, she said there was a little boy who changed her life not that many years ago. She wishes she knew how to find him today.
It was two days before Christmas and they were serving meals to the homeless through an emergency service program. Marilena said there was a grandmother who had 3 children with her ages approximately 4-11. The little boy would not eat his chicken. Marilena assumed he didn’t like it and asked if she could offer something else.
The child said, “I want to save it for tomorrow because I want to have it for Christmas,” Marilena said with a trembling voice.
“He represents millions and in a country like the US, where there is so much waste nobody should be hungry.”
If you wish to support the community please see their Facebook page where they post immediate needs as they hear about them.
“We have no borders, whether it be township or religious” said Rafaelle. “If you need help we are going to help you” said Marilena.
(They then debated over whose Tiramisu was best and decided the writer of this article should be the judge.)