PATERSON, NJ - A recent visit to Paterson’s Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community (CUMAC) saw a flurry of activity. A forklift scurried back and forth lifting and moving pallets holding boxes of food. In front of a pair of huge walk-in refrigerators and four freezers, volunteers manned tables and sorted through fruit and vegetables in the middle of the 28,000 foot warehouse space. A manager walked quickly, to and fro, armed with a clipboard, and voiced directions. Others took inventory of each and every item.
Even name brand snacks, including Brach’s Jelly Beans, Sun Chips, and Tree Top Fruit Flavored Snacks, were processed. The scene was just another day at CUMAC.
The largest food pantry in Passaic County, a non-profit agency, processes 19,000 pounds of food a week, according to Executive Director Mark Dinglasan. For over 30 years, produce, and more, has been earmarked by CUMAC for those in need in Paterson, Passaic County, and Northern New Jersey.
In the two years that Dinglasan has overseen operations at the non-profit agency, his staff has grown from 17 to 22. During that time, the need for more space and accessibility also became apparent. The requirement has led to a renovation which will result in more people being served in a more expeditious way. Tables, desks, and office space have been resituated and walls have been torn down to make room for customer service.
“This makeover will allow us to serve our constituents in obtaining food as if they were shopping in a grocery store,” Dinglasan stated as he and Communications Manager Adrian Diaz pointed to the large room being refurbished. “People will still receive food free of charge. However, there will be sections for different kinds of food such as canned goods, meat, and vegetables. Anyone can come. They just have to log into our system and show a photo ID.”
The Livingston native formerly worked as a lay missionary, building homes in the poorest part of the Philippines. Before coming to Paterson, the 38-year old obtained a master’s degree in business administration and advocated for juveniles in the criminal justice system in the city of Chicago.
Dinglasan also said that part of his vision in CUMAC becoming a full service entity is adding evening and weekend opportunities for local residents to obtain not only food but other vital needs.
“We want to be a one-stop access for support resources,” Dinglasan elaborated. “We want to point people in the right direction for such things as legal help, social and health services, nutrition education, and help in job readiness.”
CUMAC not only distributes food to local residents but also delivers to locations of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey such as Hillside and Egg Harbor. Organizations that donate to food to CUMAC include Trader Joe’s, Costco, and BJ’s Wholesale.
Kayann Foster, Volunteer Coordinator at CUMAC, said that an average day sees at least six or seven volunteers checking donated food, such as chicken and beef patties, to ensure quality. She said that the food pantry attempts to provide a variety of choices so people can go home and “have everything to make a pasta salad.”
“I love the fact that we are hands on, here at CUMAC,” Foster shared. “People don’t have to have a form or an appointment. They can just come and get help.”
Foster said that she is grateful that she can give back.
“At one time I needed food to be able to feed my own kids and I came here,” she shared with TAPinto Paterson.
Diaz said that another new feature will be regular demonstrations in food preparation and cooking in collaboration with The New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. He said recipes will also be shared.
Dinglasan said that funds needed for the $75,000 renovation have already been raised. He added that over the years, walk-ins have come from 10 counties and 64 municipalities and that support comes from 76 agencies. With an annual budget of $1.5 million, the agency provides food for more than 5,000 people per month.
For more information go to www.cumac.org or call 973-742-5518. Walk-ins are accepted on Mondays and Thursdays: 11am-3pm, Tuesdays: 9am–12pm, 1pm–3pm, Wednesdays: 11am–3pm, 4:30pm-6pm, Fridays: 9am-12pm, 4th Saturday of month: 10am–12:30pm
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