PATERSON, NJ- With plates containing roasted chicken, mixed vegetables, and potatoes, along with a serving of hot soup and a fresh fruit cup, it’s easy to imagine that the Sunday meal was being served in the comfort and warmth of one of Paterson’s many restaurants.
However the setting was quite different, and TAPinto Paterson was proud to be on hand to not only witness the amazing service to the community by volunteers of Humble Beginnings, but to also participate in the preparation and delivery of it to more than 300 local residents in need.
After nearly six hours of chopping and cutting, mixing and stirring, the healthy meal prepared entirely by volunteers inside the Islamic Center of Passaic County on Derrom Avenue, was packed and delivered, as well as served to waiting individuals, with precision reminiscent of that within the factories that gave birth to Paterson, in the parking lot of the BP gas station on Broadway.
Established in 2011 to provide services to help formerly incarcerated individuals return to the community, Humble Beginnings has evolved into an organization driven by volunteers that is geared around “providing a holistic approach to empowering members of the community to solve their own problems through collective efforts.” In just three years the organization has provided nearly 65,000 meals in Paterson.
“That’s how a village operates," Akbar McEntyre, told TAPinto Paterson keeping a watchful eye on his faithful volunteers as they worked painstakingly to prepare a meal that any family would be happy to find on their dining room table.
Throughout the preparation and delivery of the meal McEntyre, along with long-time community activist Tommy Kellam, a member of the organization’s Board, regaled TAPinto with stories of Paterson from years gone by, and shared their thoughts about what led it down the wrong path, and what steps need to be taken to bring it back to its former glory.
“Paterson was built to keep workers working,” Kellam said, indicating that the system wasn’t meant to give individuals the opportunity to thrive. And where city leaders, whether elected or not, have failed to provide the necessary resources to the residents, it is up to organizations like Humble Beginnings to take ownership of their streets, and make a positive impact.
According to McEntyre, who holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Seton Hall University, “there is an imbalance in resources and wealth,” that has become too prevalent in Paterson, a fact born out through the results of surveys the organization has undertaken to determine the needs of those it feeds. “We are providing more than a meal,” he said as he spoke of their efforts to match residents with services extending from simply acquiring identification to receiving treatment for addiction.
One of the marks of the meal service that was both spoken about and became evident as individuals made their way down the line on Sunday was the depth of the relationships that exist between those getting their meal and the organization providing it. Smiles, fist bumps and hugs greeted many of those upon arrival, with most moving from from server to server with a grateful smile and heartfelt expression of appreciation for the support being provided.
Despite what some may think “people in the community are resources,” McEntyre said earlier in the evening. “We are giving them the tools to do great things.”