If you ask anyone familiar with Bergen County what they think the local poverty rate is, their guess would probably be “pretty low,” and relative to many other areas, they’d be right. But, a recent United Way study, called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), revealed that 36.6% of Bergen County homes are ALICE households — meaning above the federal poverty level but still struggling to make ends meet. In fact, an estimated 41 percent of all Garden State households are considered among the “working poor.” This is defined as struggling to afford necessities like food, healthcare, transportation, and housing. Believe it or not, there are hundreds of families right here in our backyard who are struggling even more. This is where our friends at The Office of Concern Food Pantry come in, and have been for nearly 40 years.
The outpouring of people helping others in need is one of the beautiful things about the holidays, but the dedicated volunteers at the Office of Concern do it year-round. NVE Bank has enjoyed working closely with this remarkable organization since 2013, doing what we can to help support their mission. We were delighted to sit down with John Nolan and George McKenna, who oversee the operation, to learn more about what they do, and how we can all help.
What is The Office of Concern Food Pantry’s mission?
Since 1980, the Office of Concern Food Pantry — now the largest single location food pantry in Bergen County and one of the largest pantries in New Jersey — has been supplying needy families in our area. Previously, we concentrated on the weekly distribution of non-perishable food items. More recently, we added lean meat and dairy, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables to increase nutritional quality; this effort is called “Nutrition Plus.” The “Health and Hygiene” program strives to improve family health by supplying hygiene items to all families. The “Diaper” program provides diapers to help families with infants under the age of three. The program also helps the family budget by defraying some of the expense of buying diapers.
Who are the clients the Pantry serves?
If anyone comes to our door and says they need food, we will give them an emergency package of food. In order to come to the pantry once a week, they must register with us and have family income at or below the federal poverty guidelines for this geographic area.
Do you find people are surprised to learn there are people in need at this level, right here in Bergen County?
Yes, and when they hear we have more than 890 families registered with us and that more than 500 of them are coming in each week to pick up food, they are even more surprised.
What is the biggest challenge the Pantry faces?
We are very fortunate in that we operate with over 50 volunteers (we only have three part-time employees), and our volunteer structure allows us to use available funds to buy food to distribute each week. But without question, our biggest challenge is the need for ongoing fundraising. We now distribute about five tons of groceries, hygiene items and diapers per week.
How has NVE Bank helped The Pantry to accomplish its mission over the years?
NVE Bank has been a wonderful supporter of our organization. Every fall, NVE supplies us with groceries collected from customers at all the branches. The Bank’s staff members have provided assistance in a variety of ways including personally helping us distribute turkeys at Thanksgiving. The financial assistance NVE provided to enable us to replace a van that was falling apart with a new one was also greatly appreciated. On top of that, the Bank recently funded the purchase of many large plastic containers to protect and organize food products in our warehouse!
What is your biggest fundraising or community initiative that takes place each year?
The Thanksgiving and Christmas season is the busiest time of the year in fundraising, as well as soliciting groceries and turkeys. We are blessed this year with particularly generous donations.
What would you most like people to know about the work The Pantry does?
Since 1980, the Office of Concern Food Pantry has been dedicated to serving the poor in our local area. We aim to supplement their food and other basic needs of daily life. We give to all, regardless of religion, race, or culture. Our families include the working poor, the unemployed, retired seniors, and those struggling to feed babies and small children.
What are some of the ways people can help support the Pantry’s efforts?
Monetary donations are always welcome and we also appreciate donations of non-perishable items such as canned goods, pasta, rice, toilet paper and diapers.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Only that we take pains to respect the dignity of the families who come to our door each week. In turn, they have responded with gratitude and affection. There is a familial atmosphere in our office.
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The Office of Concern Food Pantry, located in Englewood, New Jersey, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization sponsored by St. Cecilia’s church, but is independent functionally and financially. To donate, or learn more about volunteering and other ways to help call 201.568.1465 or visit www.officeofconcern.com.
NVE Bank hosts and participates in various community service, fundraising and awareness events throughout the year. Get all the latest news, information and pictures on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. To learn more about NVE Bank’s products and services, visit our website, stop by one of our convenient neighborhood branches in Bergen County, or call 1-866-NVE BANK (683-2265) to speak with a branch associate.