PATERSON, NJ - Despite almost everything slowing down around them, when it came to continuing to deliver fresh and healthy meals to individuals and families in need Eva’s Village “didn’t miss a beat” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marie Caliendo, Director of Philanthropy for the Paterson-based anti-poverty organization told TAPinto Paterson.

Even without the usual army of volunteers, and a need to create safe space to ensure their efforts didn’t lead to any unintentional spread of the virus, they continued serving the same number of people as they did before the outbreak, she said.

On Thursday, thanks to the support of one of Paterson’s most well-known restaurants, as well as FeedNJ,  and effort of the recently established Soup Kitchen 411 non-profit taking steps to fight food insecurity across New Jersey, those seeking a meal were treated to the deliciousness of Mediterranean Turkish cuisine.

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While Huseyin Bayram, owner of Toro’s Restaurant was on hand to deliver the 300 meals, he shied away from any attention, satisfied, it seemed, to be blessed enough to be in a position to support those less fortunate.

“The first thing we do is help the community,” Bayram said, adding that service has been at the core of their mission for over 30 years. “Anything the community needs we try to be there.”

Passaic County Freeholder Assad Ahkter said that he helped make the connection between Toro’s and Feed New Jersey, as well as Spencer Savings Bank that made its own $5000 contribution to the effort, because he knows that Bayram provides great meals, but more importantly, has “a great heart.”

“When I asked him he didn’t hesitate,” Akhter said. The pairing with Eva’s Village was also important, he continued, because they have the infrastructure to provide the meals in a safe way “especially with this dangerous virus.”

Asked about efforts beyond Paterson to make sure families are being fed Akhter acknowledged that while he and his colleagues have been working tirelessly to meet the need, the situation they have seen has been “heartbreaking.”

“We are giving dozens of foodboxes to families that never expected to need free groceries,” those, Akhter said, that have traditionally been “economically secure.”

Also on hand was Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) who offered his own view of the situation, saying that COVID-19 has “exposed more issues on food insecurity,” including the difficulty of getting meals to students who would normally get two, or maybe three, meals a day in school.

While Eva’s Village has an incomparable record of service in this area, Wimberly said, the current crisis has caused many other agencies, including government units, to also take on the challenge in a more serious way. “This has had a ripple effect throughout our communities.”

Offering gratitude to Toros and other local businesses such as Bro-Ritos Taco Truck and Fast Break Cafe that have also provided free or low-cost meals to hundreds, maybe thousands of residents and frontline workers, he said that their willingness to help while they are struggling themselves shows that the effort really has been “all hands on deck.”

For his own part, New Jersey General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin visited Eva’s Village to stress that the impact of food insecurity brought on by COVID-19 is an issue of statewide importance. As one of the leaders of the New Jersey Legislature, Coughlin has spearheaded dozens of bills to address the issue and promised to “continue to be vigilant” on the matter.

“If we are going to continue to be a great state one of the things we must do is make sure people get fed,” Coughlin said, offering concern that for too many families the question of “if” they are going to be able to eat on any given day has replaced “what” they plan on eating.

Echoing the same praise the others gathered had for Eva’s Village for establishing the processes and procedures to feed so many Coughlin concluded by asking that all “keep doing the work” to keep anyone from going hungry. 

“So many people need it.”

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