A Pandemic-Born Nonprofit Supports NJ Community with Food, Clothing, and More

April 19, 2022 | | COVID-19, Deepen Faith, GNJ News, The Relay, Laity Leadership

Rev. Elaine Wing, a pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church (CUMC), has a long history of working with churches and street ministries to combat food insecurity. Early in the Covid-19 Pandemic, she was approached to help families in the area by Karen DeMarco, president of the Food Brigade. It was an easy ”Yes!” for both Rev. Elaine and the church council. Karen had a contact who was willing to provide boxes of fresh produce to people in need. She connected with CUMC and asked the church to serve as a distribution site. With CUMC and church volunteers ready to go, produce was organized so that families could come to shop for free.  

Karen and her husband, Carmine DeMarco, continued to make connections with food distribution programs and boxes of produce were replaced by USDA and NJ State boxes of food, including gallons of milk. Every week, regardless of the weather, pallets of food boxes and milk were distributed from the church parking lot. The average distribution was well over 1,200 boxes and nearly 800 gallons of milk. Individuals, families, and representatives of food pantries would fill their cars, trucks, and vans with boxes of fresh food and milk. The church refrigerators became a mini dairy, the freezers became meat lockers, and the kitchen counters served as a produce store. 

Members of the two churches Rev. Elaine serves, CUMC in Dumont and Church of the Good Shepherd in Bergenfield became part of the distribution chain. They brought food to neighbors and co-workers who could benefit from a little help and support through the blessing of food. The church congregations and the DeMarco’s worked together, expanding the circle wide to include more recipients and volunteers.  

Dumont’s Social Services department became a partner in the process during the height of the pandemic. CUMC enlisted a local scout troop to distribute flyers in English and Spanish throughout the Borough of Dumont, informing families of the available food assistance.  

“It was an amazing effort by individuals and groups – all working together to meet the needs of families in the greater Dumont area. Recipients became volunteers and one person connected us with a Spanish-speaking community of immigrants who desperately needed our help.” Said Rev. Elaine Wing. 

When the weather turned cold, the two UMC congregations expanded their annual winter clothing distribution to accommodate the larger list of recipients connected through the food program. In 2020, the sanctuary pews were filled with coats and families were given a time of private shopping to find what they needed. The next year in 2021, the fellowship hall became the distribution site for clothing donated and organized by a plethora of interfaith organizations, Dumont Social Services, and church congregations.   

The DeMarco’s made the decision to create a non-profit organization: The Food Brigade. Rev. Elaine served as a member on the initial Board of Trustees to further connect the church, the Food Brigade, and the community. The Food Brigade was given space within the church, which they quickly outgrew, and a larger room was turned into an exclusive space for their growing needs. Food distribution methods evolved with the availability of food programs and grants. When the school lunch program was stopped in the Dumont public schools because of the pandemic, the Food Brigade and CUMC stepped in and distributed boxes of food geared to provide breakfast and lunch to school children in the area.  

The Food Brigade Inc. is a nonprofit corporation of the State of New Jersey incorporated on 10/1/20, and is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity. Please visit their website at https://foodbrigade.org to learn more on their background, mission, programs and services, and recent news. Those interested in keeping up on the latest happenings of The Food Brigade can check out their Facebook page at  https://facebook.com/foodbrigadeUSA.