CUMAC, Feeding People & Changing Lives

CUMAC, Feeding People & Changing Lives

by Alyssa Lorenz, Staff Writer

Nearly 50,000,000 people in the United States face hunger. More specifically, in Passaic County, New Jersey alone, over 70,000 people do not know if they will be able to eat dinner every night.

Unfortunately, much of that number accounts for children. Not only can hunger cause developmental issues, but it can also make a parent choose between purchasing food and other necessities.

Almost more astonishing than that is the fact that 40% of the food produced in this country every year is thrown out. That food could feed many hungry Americans.

Although there is widespread hunger, there are many organizations, establishments, and programs in order to try and stop hunger or help the people who face it. There are currently over 40,000 of these organizations, according to Feeding America.

Among these many organizations is CUMAC (Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community).

A day’s work

Stephanie Amos was fresh out of college and looking for a job. An administrative assistant job, at CUMAC, was posted on Craigslist. She immediately gravitated towards this job because CUMAC is an agency that runs so many programs.

“I started as administrative assistant but quickly grew into the role of volunteer coordinator and now community engagement coordinator because awesome volunteers that are really keeping us busy,” Stephanie Amos said.

“We have volunteers in here every single day of the year.”

— Stephanie Amos

“In the 80s the Methodists went through an ecumenical movement which means that we wanted everyone to know that we would help anyone in need,” she said. “We wanted to partner with whoever needed us. So we added the tagline ECHO. Ecumenically concerned helping others.  [CUMAC/ECHO] is a very long and convoluted name so we shortened it to CUMAC. And we often go by our tagline ‘CUMAC, Feeding people and changing lives.’”

CUMAC is a local organization that tries to put a stop to hunger. They run a large-scale food pantry — the largest food pantry in the Passaic County. This massive food pantry takes in about 2,000,000 pounds of food every year. CUMAC feeds about 40,000 people a year

Broken down, this organization feeds about 3,000 people in a month. Depending on what month it is, they will feed anywhere between 50 and 200 families a day. “I think the average is 100 families in a day,” Amos clarified.

Along with all this food, though, is CUMAC’s hard-working staff of 25 people.

“We have volunteers in here every single day of the year,” said Amos. This program relies totally on donations and collections that are given to the organization from the community. Most of the donations come in from individuals, church groups, and local retail stores.  Financial collections keep the building open.

Along with the food pantry itself, CUMAC has programs to help in the fields of education, workforce, and even a men’s assistance program.

CUMAC also runs an after school program that addresses literacy issues and helps young children advance to a high school skill level.

Along with their after-school education program, CUMAC also collects school supplies and materials that they then sort and package into backpacks for when children go back to school in the fall. Without their contribution to the children in the community, many local children would not be able to afford all the necessary school supplies.

The schools are often lacking the funds to host extra-curricular activities; the ability to provide electives is just not there.

These children aren’t even able to have sports teams and after-school clubs, which is also another reason why CUMAC’s after school program is very beneficial. Their program gives children a stable, reliable place to go after school where they will be able to do things like plant flowers and play outside. This also ensures that, for that period of time after-school, they aren’t going home alone to empty houses until their parents get home from work.

CUMAC also offers other programs for people in the area such as a workforce program for anyone looking for gainful employment.

During large-scale disasters, the Community Closet works with emergency response teams and volunteer organizations to collect and gather critical supplies and distribute them to those in need. These supplies consist of a wide range of necessities: from clothes and shoes, to cleaning supplies and hygiene products.

Although CUMAC relies entirely on collections and donations, their warehouse is nonetheless filled to the brim with boxes upon boxes of clothing, toys, household appliances, etc. These boxes then are categorized and labeled in accordance to what they are and if they actually work or not.

Though there were many donations, not all of them are actually reliable to work or to have all the parts to them. For example, there were 15 KEURIG coffee machines sent in one box, but only 2 or 3 of them actually worked.

The process of going through each box and separating everything and testing all the electrical appliances probably took half an hour per box. Though without the volunteers and staff there to actually go through each thing and test it, these boxes are near useless.

Lastly, CUMAC runs many seasonal projects and programs. Some of these programs are back-to-school programs (that gather supplies that kids might need for school), special food collections for Thanksgiving, and the Holiday Wish list program. These programs all maintain three common goals which are to bring together various faith groups and educate participants regarding hunger in NJ, to create a sense of community responsibility and encourage action toward the alleviation of hunger, and to raise money to support CUMAC’s work.

A common misconception of people that are helped by CUMAC is that they are all homeless, which is not true.  Though some people that walk through those doors are in dire need of help and support, many of them just had some bad luck or misfortune go their way.  A common story that goes into CUMAC is the single working mom who, at the end of the month, might not be able to afford that last week of food or might not be able to afford name brand clothing or full price appliances.

CUMAC is a place that gives people that slight relief of whatever it is that they’re going through. It helps people that just need that extra boost at the end of the month when they’re waiting on a paycheck.

As Stephanie Amos said, “CUMAC is one of the nuttiest places. You never know who is going to walk through the door or what’s going to happen that day.”