Party Like It’s Your Birthday…Because It Is!

Birthdays smurthdays. As you get older, they seem more like days and less like special events.  But I remember a time when birthdays were purely magical.  Growing up, I was blessed to have an incredibly large family so by default my birthday parties resembled a small village.

No matter what I was into that year, Cookie Monster, ponies, Chuck E. Cheese, we had themed party decorations, games and a cake to match.  Now having put together these shindigs for my own kids, I know how much work this is and it makes me look back on these times with more fondness.  I was truly blessed to have the love and support of so many around me to celebrate my special day.  I cannot imagine it any other way.

As some of you know, the SPCDC runs a Food Pantry that services clients five days per week to help them meet their basic needs when public assistance laps.  Yes, we hand out food, but it is more than just that.  We get to know our clients like they are part of our family and we try to deliver items to them that make a true difference.

This is nothing new as we have always created bags that resemble more of what you would get at a grocery store- fresh produce, meat and poultry and dairy products, which are all rarities when it comes to items distributed from public assistance.  However, as we have dug deeper we have been able to meet the needs of our clients more and each year, we are getting better and better.

Three years ago, thanks a study about food insecurity, we realized that there was an area of Paterson that was not being serviced and as a result, many families were going without food.  With the help of the school district, we were able to pilot the first ever Food Pantry inside of a school, this pantry is now an extension of the work that we do.  Now families are able to pick up their children and groceries all at once.  It has been such a success that we will be opening a new one in another school just next month!

Two years ago, we started a BackPack Program in our own Full Service Community School #15.  Through this program, enrolled children get a backpack filled with food that will help them get through the weekend.  It was so successful that this year, we have included food for not only the child that is participating, but the entire family.

Last year, we realized that many of our clients didn’t know how to prepare the fresh produce that we were giving out, so we developed an ongoing partnership with CityGreen in Clifton to deliver bi-monthly healthy food workshops, where they put on cooking demonstrations with the food that clients would be receiving and hand out recipes during distribution so clients watch and learn while they wait.

Last year, we also realized that many of our clients struggled with hygiene and cleaning as these basic products are not supported by food stamps so in addition to handing out food, we are also giving people shampoos, soaps, toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning agents.

Pretty amazing, right?  Well, although we would like to take credit for all good ideas, this is not the case.  Sometimes our amazing pool of volunteers are able to recognize a need and deliver in a way that we cannot imagine.  Our good friends at Christ Church in Ridgewood have done just that.  Christ Church regularly supports our Food Pantry through on-going food drives and they deliver collected food once a month.  This year in addition to their regular donation, they gave us “birthday bundles”.  These homemade kits were made by the congregation and they consisted of everything that you could need to throw a birthday party- cake mix, icing, decorative plates, candles, birthday card, balloons, decorating kit, napkins and even a pan to make the cake in.  We agreed with gratitude, but had no idea what a hit these would become.

When we first rolled this out, we were given 10 kits and they became the highlight and the draw of the Food Pantry.  For days, we raffled off a couple of kits a day and the feedback we got from the winners was amazing.  When we told Christ Church, much to our surprise we were blessed with more bundles at our door.  Now we are on round two and these are still the ongoing highlight of our pantry clients.  It has not only made a big difference in the morale of our clients, but it has allowed them to give their children and/or family member something that they haven’t been able to before- special birthday party.

As a child, I never realized how lucky I was to have these birthday celebrations, but now I realize how many people are unable to do this for their children. This kind gesture gives people a chance to be able to create a special memory that their child/family member will look back on with gratitude.

Something so simple, but a lasting memory that will make an impact for many years to come.  I thank Christ Church and others for thinking creatively about how to better service our clients.  This is an amazing idea which I am happy to highlight on my actual birthday.

If you have a creative idea that you’d like to bring to our Pantry or if you’d like to get some more info about how to help, we want to hear from you.  You can reach out to the Program Coordinator Kimberly Arias at 973-710-3900 ext. 424 or karias@stpaulscdcnj.org.

Lastly, a big thank you to my good friend Nabil Riaz and my lovely sister Kelly Costanzo for supporting the SPCDC in my half marathon efforts.

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