SOMERVILLE, NJ - Tom O'Leary and George Georgoulas are on the front lines of an endless battle, helping to provide necessities to those who are homeless and in need of clothing, personal care items, a healthy meal and a safe place to sleep at night.
They're not always successful - but they, and others like them, never give up.
The onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses challenges unlike others they have ever seen which makes a tough job that much tougher.
"Scriptures from all religions instruct us to “Feed the Needy.” This remains our calling during this unheralded event. With the Grace of God and your help we are doing our best to comply," said O'Leary, the founder and president of SHIP (Samaritan Homeless Interim Program) whose clients are in dire need of the basics most take for granted.
Georgoulas is a peer supporter at the Collaborative Support Program of New Jersey community center in Somerville, NJ.
"Many of the clients that I help are homeless. I am not homeless," he said, "but I am feeling the pain of my clients.
"Homeless people face a huge risk of exposure to the coronavirus and do not have the resources to fight it," Georgoulas said. "They are unable to self-quarantine. Therefore, we have clients who are afraid about the next day. They feel alone. Many of these individuals do not have phones to call people.
"Some people do not have a place to stay safe during the day or to sleep for the night. They cannot find a bathroom since most of the restaurants, parks and libraries are closed," he added.
"It is also detrimental to their health," he adds, as many of the people he works with are in treatment for mental health or substance addiction, but they are not able to get the help they need. Georgoulas continued. "As more people are laid off, donations to food banks are drying up, just as demand is getting higher, making it more challenging to get enough food.
"Just imagine standing outside not knowing what to do, having nowhere to go, nothing to do, and the fear that you are being exposed to a potentially deadly virus. Anxiety and fear levels among this population is even higher than usual,"Georgoulas added. "The government is promising financial help, but only for people who have addresses and filed taxes last year. So there is no relief promised for them.
"We as a society cannot judge others. We need to have compassion. We need to look at these individuals as equals. We need to continue to be able to feed and shelter the homeless here," Georgoulas said.
O'Leary and his crew of volunteers have had to face two crises this week; The church halls and kitchens in Somerville that SHIP relies on to serve meals to those in need have been forced to close. Fortunately, SHIP has a mobile food kitchen donated by the Montgomery-Rocky Hill Rotary, which they're parking in the lots of St. John's Episcopal Church on West High Street, and at the United Reformed Church on Main Street, distributing food - no questions asked.
On Friday, O'Leary was informed by the Somerset County Sheriff's Office that it could no longer cook the Easter turkeys that are carved and distributed to their clients because of COVID-19. This will be the 30th year that SHIP will serve the holiday meal.
"The Sheriff and the staff at the Somerset County Jail have been helping us by cooking the turkeys for the past 18 years and we fully understand them taking the necessary precautions to protect the County Jail Staff and all persons in the jail," O'Leary said.
"We are in need of a Guardian Angel or Angles to help us find a place to cook our 30 turkeys," he added.
"We currently have around 15 volunteers to help carve the birds when they are transferred to the United Reformed Church in Somerville in order to be carved in preparation for Easter Sunday. We likewise have 25 volunteers lined up to cook, heat, bag and serve the food. We will be serving the meals on a “To-Go” basis.
O'Leary can be reached at (908) 393-9545 or (908) 642-2404 or online at Ship908@optonline.net.
SHIP will continue to serve lunch at SHIP’s Galley I, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Somerville on all Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. SHIP’s Galley II, the United Reformed Church in Somerville on all Tuesdays and Thursdays from SHIP’s new Mobile Soup Kitchen–Disaster unit in the church parking lot from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.
SHIP is deploying 25 crews of volunteers to continue to serve the needy, according to O'Leary. Crews will be bringing food as regularly scheduled every Monday through Friday and providing 2 to 3 volunteers to assist. Galley director’s will be there to help as needed. Dining halls and bathrooms are off-limits.
Additionally, SHIP’s Mobile Soup Kitchen – Disaster Unit will be providing meals to those in need at identified pockets of poverty in Somerset County from 5:30 to 6:30 pm Monday, Tuesday and Friday at Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in North Plainfield. The MSK will also be feeding the needy on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic in Manville.
SHIP also needs donations of 9-inch to go containers with no separators; 6-inch to go containers; to go bags; c"leaning products; food in pop top packaging and microwaveable items.
"I and all at SHIP are lifting our hearts and soul up to God for help. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we serve God's special people," O'Leary said.