PATERSON, NJ - While a long line of area residents waited for the daily food distribution at Paterson’s Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community (CUMAC) on Monday morning, the non-profit organization’s warehouse was abuzz with activity as a forklift hoisted pallets of non-perishable food that were soon to be loaded on trucks.
Volunteers Brian and Kerry Winiarski lifted and arranged boxes of canned goods at the ready. The couple said that contributing work at least twice a month provided, “a real purpose in helping others.”
On Martin Luther King Day, the Wyckoff residents were also in for a special treat, a visit by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Mrs. Tammy Snyder Murphy.
8-year old Giana Contreras was accompanied by her mother, Jeni Mastrangelo, and had participated in a learning pod provided for young students by CUMAC. The youngster said she was not aware that the governor was about to arrive.
“I’m excited to meet him,” Giana said, her eyes brightening when being informed of the news.
Accompanied by Mayor Andre Sayegh, the Governor and First Lady were cordially greeted by CUMAC CEO Mark Dinglasan and provided a tour of the updated facilities.
The Murphys not only witnessed the streamlined, gathering process of groceries firsthand, but were also trained by workers as to the variety of food included for each recipient or family. With 25 years of marriage behind them the couple seemed to blend effortlessly into the culinary ambience as if they were in the kitchen of their own home.
In September 2018, the longstanding lifeline to surrounding communities underwent a renovation that revolutionized the distribution of food. Rather than be handed bags, participants that visit CUMAC now walk from row to row and personally choose edibles and dairy items as if shopping in a real supermarket. However, the efficient procedure had to be adjusted after the onset of COVID-19.
Dinglasan explained that, now, each person or family that comes is matched up with a volunteer or worker who gathers the food for them, in order to support social distancing and health safety measures.
“It’s pretty great coming here,” Murphy told the group of CUMAC staff and media members. “We came here to serve today in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
The Governor shared that when serving as the United States Ambassador to Germany and speaking to school students, they immediately mentioned George Washington, Abraham Lincolon, John F. Kennedy, and Dr. King, as the most famous figures in American history.
“Before the pandemic, food insecurity was an issue in New Jersey. The problem has now been exacerbated,” Murphy elaborated. “Our administration has done all it can do to help out. We are asking for more money from the federal government," adding his praise for front line workers, including police, firefighters, and educators.”
“CUMAC is one of the great organizations in Paterson,” he concluded.
A highlight of the tour and service effort came when Governor Murphy was introduced to 89-year old Gene Bilz at the organization’s thrift store. The longtime Paterson resident is a CUMAC board member and has been volunteering at the organization for 28 years.
Concerning helping those in need, the octogenarian was quick to comment. “Once you start working here, it becomes your passion,” Bilz said. “I’m a Patersonian. My heart is here.”
Mayor Sayegh referred to Bilz as “the city’s historian.” Bilz said she graduated from Eastside High School in 1948 and once met Silk City baseball legend Larry Doby.
Councilman Luis Velez was also on hand calling the annual commemoration of King, “a day of service.”
It was a pleasure for the entire CUMAC team to host Governor Murphy and the First Lady today at CUMAC,” Dinglasan said. “They’re both great believers in our approach to anti-hunger work and trauma-informed programming. It was a pleasure to serve alongside them as we honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Sayegh thanked the Murphys for their visit and concern for those in need and concluded, “We will get through these hard times together. Soon, there will be days of sunshine.”
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.