PATERSON, NJ- “Service Above Self.”
It’s that noble mission that keeps members of Rotary Clubs all over the globe involved in making important impacts in their local community. And, in Paterson, it’s no different.
On Monday, that motto came to life again when members of then Great Falls Rotary Club and the Passaic County Board of Realtors, flanked by Congressman Bill Pascrell, Mayor Jane Williams-Warren, Councilman Andre Sayegh, and several local veterans, stood together to announce the opening of the Great Falls Rotary Foundation Military Assistance Pantry.
Located in office space that once housed administrative offices of the Paterson Housing Authority in Gordon Canfield Plaza, the pantry will open on the third Saturday of every month and offer healthy food packages for veterans and military families from throughout Passaic County.
The project, John Walton, past president of the Passaic Board of Relators said, was a “no-brainer” because of the Rotary Club’s strong record of helping military families, and one, several of his colleagues would say later, they were happy to be involved in.
“If we can’t do it for the veterans, who can we do it for,” Congressman Bill Pascrell told the audience. With his trademark fighting spirit as visible as ever, Pascrell offered a promise that the panty would be, and stay, full so that veterans in need will be able to avail of it.
“It’s the least we can do,” he said.
Relaying her own story of being the daughter, wife, and brother of military veterans, Warren lamented that coming out of the military and returning to the community is rife with challenges, and that former soldiers become “vulnerable.”
“Somebody has to care,” Warren said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Paterson Housing Authority Executive Director Irma Gorham, who also serves as the President of the Great Falls Rotary Club Foundation, took time to celebrate the “great partnerships” that have made the pantry a reality, and suggested that with additional support from organizations such as CUMAC it will continue to grow.
Asked about the criteria to benefit from the pantry Gorham would say that while individuals will be asked to show proof of military service the Rotary Club is in the “mode of humility,” and in addition to offering food packages will attempt to connect those seeking support to various other available resources.
With the formalities over guests spent time networking, giving TAPinto Paterson the opportunity to wander into a conversation between Julius Jones and Marcenia Cofield, both lifelong Paterson residents, and veterans.
Jones offered his praise for the effort saying that in some way all of those gathered on Monday helped him “get back on (his feet)” when after four years in the Navy he found himself homeless and struggling. “I didn’t know where I was going,” he said offering that he suffered from PTSD and anxiety, but now, thanks to the help he has received he’s “gone from nothing to something,” and gotten his life “together.”
While the natural inclination, and indeed role, of a reporter is to continue asking questions, TAPinto Paterson took a step back as Jones and Cofield shared experiences of their own service, post-service challenges, and recognition that once you’ve served in the military “you’ll never be the same.”
Cofield, senior to Jones at least by age, invited him to be a part of several support groups she is involved in, included At Ease, a veteran’s ministry she founded, and another that gathers veterans over the course of six weeks for lunch and nutritional support.
Strangers only minutes before, their conversation ended in a warm embrace, and a commitment to stay connected.