Non-Profit Organization Serves Up Food, Supplies And Hospitality To Area Families
By Cheryl Conway
There is more to Thanksgiving than the turkey and those edible trimmings. Don’t forget to digest those feelings of home, warmth, comfort and caring when families gather or when volunteers extend a hand to help those who are less fortunate.
The Wayne Interfaith Network, also known as WIN, always makes room on its plate to all that it serves- from that complete holiday meal to welcoming families inside- providing them with assistance and their needs. Whether its food, supplies or support, WIN provides assistance to all those who are in need.
Located at the Wayne YMCA for the past five years, WIN currently helps 130 local families. The WIN Food Pantry distributes non-perishable nutritious food to eligible area residents, as well as various cleaning supplies, personal care products and even shoes, outfits and backpacks to children twice annually.
“Uniting as a sharing, caring, community, WIN provides assistance to those in need including working families, the disabled, seniors and others in our community who may be struggling with hunger, job loss, illness, accidents, the death of a loved one, or a reduction in their living standard because of a changing economy,” as stated on its website.
“It was always very, very small,” explains Schuman, who has lived in Wayne for the past 20 years. “When I took it over there were 22 families,” he says, but that number grew.
It was the series of floods in Wayne from the two hurricanes at that time including Hurricane Sandy, which brought in an influx of food and more people needing assistance. The Packanack Church pastor got involved with the town as “we needed donations everywhere,” he says, and word spread.
“She [Pastor Karen] got this influx of food,” says Schuman. “We got into the news; all of a sudden it opened the door and there was a dramatic increase every few months and people found out about us.”
The YMCA provides WIN a “nice size room with outside access,” for people to visit and keep their privacy, he says. The “high ceiling and high shelves” come in handy to stock that many more donations, he adds.
Run by all working volunteers, donations come in from generous WIN members and congregations, individual and group contributions, as well as from businesses and service organizations.
Eligible families receive three to seven bags, depending on family size filled with non-perishable food items once per month. With a recent donation of a refrigerator from PC Richards, additional items such as cheese and produce, can also be distributed. Clients also receive $30 to $50 in Shoprite gift cards to purchase eggs and meat.
“They call a week before they are due; we pack up what they need,” says Schuman. Pick-ups are Mondays and Tuesdays, and WIN volunteers deliver to the elderly, he says. The pantry is not open to the public.
For Thanksgiving, eligible families will receive a “complete Thanksgiving dinner,” including a non-cooked turkey. Churches and organizations donate all of the items from “soup to nuts,” so families can enjoy all the trimmings to a holiday meal including carrots, potatoes, turkey, stuffing.
“It’s a hug box- we give away to 50 to 60 families,” says Schuman. “We are a small group but we do a lot.”
For the Summer Sneaker Program, WIN provides Kohls gift cards every early June for families to shop for new sneakers or an outfit. For the Back To School Program, it repeats the program so kids can go back to school with a new pair of shoes or clothes, says Schuman.
There are about 65 children, ages 6 to 15, who are eligible every year. Schuman says cost for both programs average about $150 per kid. In addition, each child gets a new back-to-school backpack filled with school supplies.
Besides providing food, gift cards and supplies, WIN is known for its hospitality.
“We are known to be very warm and friendly to our clients,” says Schuman. “They feel like they are coming home. We cry with them; we laugh with them; give them hugs. We do God’s work, that’s what we do.”
Money to support WIN comes from donations from churches, synagogues, Scouts and organizations like Lyons and rotary.
“A lot of it is word of mouth,” says Schuman, who is a member at Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne as well as the YMCA.
While donations are always needed, as well as volunteers, Schuman says fortunately “right now we are doing well. A lot of it has been built over the years. We’ve been very fortunate that Wayne has been generous over the years. It’s the whole community doing it.”
The Wayne Interfaith Network Board, which is made up of currently 20 volunteers, meets regularly once per month to go over how much has been collected, where funds came from. “It’s informational,” he says, to go over “what needs” are at the pantry.
“It’s a lot of work,” admits Schuman, but he does not mind. “It’s important to me. I was fairly lucky, did fairly well for myself. I wanted to give back to the community.” Before retiring in 2006, Schuman worked for 36 years as a general manager of a major manufacturing company.
Hunger- “it’s heartbreaking to have hungry people anywhere,” says Schuman. “When these people come in, they are so grateful; some of them are teary eyed.”
Schuman also enjoys working with the 20 other volunteers as “it’s really unified,” he says. “People feel safe coming to is.”
He says, “I was fortunate; I want to give back. Basically we all feel the same way. We get so much out of it.”
Schuman concludes with one of his favorite quotes, this one by Winston Churchill: “What you acquire in life brings you a living. What you give brings you life.”
Anyone wishing to donate, checks can be sent to the Wayne Interfaith Network, P.O. Box 3341, Wayne, N.J., 07474-3341.
For more information about WIN and to see a current list of items in need, visit www.winfoodpantry.org or call (973) 595-1900.
For those in need of assistance from the food pantry, call the director of Senior and Social Services at 973- 694-1800 x 3281. Anyone requesting assistance must be a resident of Wayne and be screened before enrolled in the program and reevaluated on a continuing basis. Some individuals and families have a short term need while others may need prolonged assistance.