Newark Nonprofit Delivers Food, Hope Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Eric Kiefer
·3 min read

NEWARK, NJ — It was March, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey, when Va’Lorie James got the call she’d been dreading: one of her students had the virus.

James, a social worker at Barringer High School in Newark, said that like many other people in the state, she felt an “overwhelming sense of panic and fear” at the time. But James also knew she had to do whatever she could to help her student and his loved ones.

What came next gave a glimpse into a problem that’s been affecting many other families in Newark, according to the United Community Corporation (UCC).

James started dialing local agencies to ask about getting food delivered to a family that was forced to quarantine for at least 14 days, and was without access to a car. The responses she received quickly became all-too-common: “We can’t do food drop-offs.”

Eventually, however, James got a tip to contact the UCC, which runs a food pantry that’s been stepping up to help people left without reliable, private transportation in the pandemic. And after a brief conversation, just in the nick of time, two-weeks’ worth of food was delivered to their home.

“We’re doing something that nobody else is really willing to do,” said Maria Torres, who manages United Community Corporation’s Champion House food pantry.

Since the pandemic began, Torres and her staff have served more than 150,000 people through deliveries, daily food distributions at the Champion House food pantry and distribution events, some of which have taken on truly gargantuan proportions.

Torres and her staff have taken the mission to heart. But it’s been rough on the spirit, too, she reported. They’ve seen photos of empty refrigerators and babies in need of diapers, and heard “horror stories” of people battling COVID-19.

Luckily, they have each other to lean on, she added.

“I can’t do this by myself,” Torres said. “This is all because of the work done by my staff. I call them the girls and all of this is because of the girls’ work. Helping people that desperately need food keeps us motivated and keeps us going.”

The UCC has also gotten a big boost from dozens of local partners, including churches and other social service groups in Newark. It also gets receives food donations from Community Food Bank and MEND Hunger Relief Network.

Food donations are just one of the ways that the UCC has been reaching out to give a hand up to Newark residents affected by the pandemic. It also runs an emergency shelter on Fulton Street, offers an energy assistance program, has been holding virtual programs for youth, and has housing assistance programs at the ready to help deal with evictions and rental/mortgage assistance.

The community action agency is getting set to distribute even more food for the Thanksgiving holiday. Anyone interested in donating food can email donations@uccnewark.org, or contact Torres at maria.torres@uccnewark.org. People in need of food can email Torres, as well.

“Our agency has always looked at people stricken by poverty and tried to find ways to help them out of it,” United Community Corporation executive director Craig Mainor said.

“During this pandemic, we’ve had to develop a new kind of motive saying that we will find a way to help you put food on your table – no matter what,” Mainor said. “It may be different than how we did it in the past, but we will find a way.”

This story is part of Patch's Headlining Hope series, which profiles local nonprofits and chartiable organizations in need of volunteers and resources. If you know about a local organization that should be profiled, contact eric.kiefer@patch.com.

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This article originally appeared on the Newark Patch