By Pamela Macek
Hard times can unsuspectingly befall anyone at any time. The recent government shut down is proof of this, with its historical, 35-day, no pay period for government and contract workers. For those employees working without pay, and without any substantial savings to rely on, crisis can ensue. It is then we hope to see the goodness of our fellow man – our neighbor, rise to the forefront and lend a helping hand. Thankfully, the Township of Denville is filled with people who exemplify what it means to be kind, compassionate and neighborly. Through the Townships’ efforts, they have created a very pro-active Social Services Department (DSSD) specifically to assist these government workers as well as other struggling individuals and families living in the Township community with a variety of support services, for times like this.
Steve Dublanica has been serving for the past four years in the position of Denville’s Social Services “Generosity Coordinator.” The department, which has been in existence for over twenty years, is largely run by volunteers. Dublanica is the person in charge of the Department who provides oversight, while connecting resources, volunteers, township officials and outside support organizations together. One might say that Mr. Dublanica is the hub of the Social Service wheel, but he will be the first to admit, this is no one man show. With their valiant and dedicated efforts combined, Mr. Dublanica’s team works together to successfully provide the various forms of assistance that is needed for young and old alike, all throughout the year.
Since the inception of the Department, the Township of Denville continues to generously provide free of charge, the office space for Steve and his team of volunteers to work, the storage space for all the goods that are donated, stored and awaiting distribution, as well as the only paid, part-time salary for the Generosity Coordinator’s position. Dublanica shared, “I work twenty-five hours a week here. The additional work force is carried out by committed volunteers. Everything else – things like money, food, clothing, toys, school supplies, is donated by the people and organizations of Denville, plus outside resources we network with. There is a lot to be done. Volunteers come every day to assist me. They are the helping hands of Denville.”
The primary job that the Social Services Department carries out is their year-round Food Pantry. Currently there are approximately 110 registered families from the town of Denville relying upon the pantry for food; some show up at the pantry sporadically and others may come every couple of weeks, while the majority arrive regularly for assistance once a month. Mr. Dublanica wants the residents of Denville affected by the Government shutdown to be aware that the food pantry is open and available for them during this challenging time.
Oftentimes, outside agencies, like the state-funded Board of Social Services (BSS), fall short of helping to meet the basic needs of individuals and families who are reliant upon their support. The Denville Social Services Department helps augment BSS state programs like SNAP. “We have folks come in who only need financial help for a brief time. It could be for things like rental assistance and energy bills. We do what we can. When we can’t, we try to connect them with outside services who can. The people of Denville are committed to helping those less fortunate than themselves.”
One of the agencies that the Denville Social Services Department connects people to is Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that helps families build and improve places to call home. Through the collaboration of both organizations, housing assistance is able to be provided at times to those who are eligible. Sometimes emergencies happen that affect someone’s living condition and the Denville Social Service Department attempts to do all they can to help. One such time there was a family who lost their home due to a house fire. Mr. Dublanica was able to reach out to Habitat for Humanity on behalf of the family. Habitat for Humanity responded by assisting in paying the cost for the family to stay at a hotel for two weeks. This type of help is invaluable to folks who face unimaginably overwhelming crisis like the family in this story.
Additional programs offered by the Social Service Department, such as the Dial-a-Ride Service, are generally needed on a weekly basis. The elderly, sick and disabled who are unable to drive are reliant upon this program to maintain a semblance of daily life for themselves. They struggle with providing their own self-care, which often requires going places like grocery shopping and doctor appointments. Reliable vehicles are needed in order to provide these types of services. The Township of Denville residents’ amazing generosity was seen again through the donations of funds which were raised and put towards the purchase of a new van to be used for the Dial-a-Ride program.
Not surprisingly, September through January consistently show to be the busiest time during the year for the Social Services Department. This is due to the start of the school year and the fall and winter holidays, when specific outreach programs are held. The residents of Denville are committed to helping ensure that families – especially those with children, have the clothing and school supplies needed to begin their year of education. This takes place with the September School Supply Drive. Generous donations pour in so that pens, pencils, note pads, back packs, and any other needed school items are available for the Township’s children. The Social Services Department also gives money to Denville’s schools to help fund free and reduced-price lunches. These caring adults understand that no child should ever have to go hungry, especially while in school.
November is the month when the Food Pantry stocks their shelves for the Thanksgiving Food Drive. People in need can come and select for themselves what foods they would like to have so they may prepare a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal in their own homes. The Pantry volunteers also make sure that every family receives a turkey. Any turkeys that have not been donated to the residents in need are then given to local charities. These acts of generosity from the Department volunteers and Denville resident donors go beyond the town’s own borders and truly reflects what the spirit of Thanksgiving is all about.
Compassion and good will are also graciously extended during the colder weather months. This is when many families in need are most certainly facing additional stress. The town responds, as generosity abounds and is visibly evident, with the Food Pantry shelves filling up with such things as winter coats, bedding, traditional holiday meals and gifts, all ready to be donated. The Social Services Department of Denville looks to ease some of that stress by providing these people the ability to participate with dignity in and enjoy some of the same festivities that others who are financially stable take pleasure in.
Two highly successful programs in particular that run during the holiday season are the Christmas/Hanukkah Toy Drive and Adopt a Family Drive. Needy families submit to Mr. Dublanica their “wish list/need list” of items for themselves and their family members. The lists are reviewed and then families are assigned or “adopted” to those Denville residents who volunteer to be anonymous donors. Those giving and those receiving participants do not know who is who, nor do they ever meet. This is the perfect example of the true holiday spirit.
When asked if there are long-term benefits that have been seen with these types of programs, Mr. Dublanica quickly replied, “Oh yes. Many of our volunteers here are people who have at one time relied upon our programs. They want to come back and help as their way to pay it forward.” He went on to share a heartwarming story about a young woman who came to the Department with a financial donation. She shared about how when she was a little girl, her family had to get help for food and use the different programs that were offered. Now that she was starting to earn money through her work, it was important for her to give back to the place that cared so much.
There are a few requirements that must be met to determine eligibility for assistance. Mr. Dublanica explains that a fairly straightforward vetting process is in place for that. “First, the person or family applying for assistance must be a resident of Denville. They will have to provide documents verifying residency, as well as their current employment situation and economic status. Government workers adversely affected by the shutdown need only to bring proper ID or the most recent pay stub for verification of their last pay period. If any Denville resident is in need of assistance, all they have to do is email or call me.” Deville Township Social Services is located at St. Mary’s Place, Denville, NJ. Mr. Dublanica can be reached by phone at 973-625-8300, ext. 269 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The State of New Jersey employs over 70,000 people. Approximately 700 of these government workers live in the Township of Denville and have been affected by the recent shutdown. While the shutdown has thankfully ended, the residents of Denville want to ensure that the townspeople who continued to work without pay, as well as their families, do not face hardship because of this situation. While everyone is aware that another shutdown may possibly take place in just a few short weeks, Steve Dublanica and his wonderful team of compassionate volunteers are ready and available to serve their fellow neighbor, reaching out with a helping hand.