By Jeff Bahr
NORTH ARLINGTON –
The Rev. Kenneth Reihl, senior pastor of North Arlington’s St. Francis Lutheran Orthodox Church, is a man of action and a man who most certainly walks the walk. In answer to long-term unemployment that currently has a stranglehold on America, Reihl spearheaded an idea aimed at lessening the pain of displaced and disillusioned workers.
Deeming the month of September “A Month of Hope,” Reihl is working in conjunction with other area churches and volunteers on a month-long food drive to help families in need.
“Anything helps – any way we can get this out to people is a major plus,” emphasizes Reihl.
The pastor detailed the back-story that prompted him to take action.
“I was looking at the news and became very disgusted when I heard that our government had cut the longterm unemployment across the nation,” said Reihl. “Just alone in New Jersey, we have about 26,000 individuals out of work who are losing their long-term unemployment. That really started bothering me.”
Reihl then spoke of a poignant message that he received on the church’s online prayer-request website and the profound effect that it had on him.
“People from all over can actually just e-mail us to say, ‘Can you pray for us, or can you help us,’ ” explained Reihl. “So one of them not too long ago said, ‘Can you call me back?’ because we leave them that option.”
“The man said his wife had lost her job quite a while ago and that he had just lost his job. They’re going to lose (the place) where they live – I believe they were renting – and they’re going to be out in the street. The wife’s cell phone is the only phone working and that’s going to be cut off as well.”
“I asked, ‘Where do you live brother?’ and he says, ‘Tennessee.’ So I decided to see what I could do for him. I put him in contact with a great company (Spread the Purple) that works with homes and people trying to get them back on their feet and they actually jumped on it trying to help this individual.”
The man’s dilemma hit home with the pastor on a very personal level and underscored how widespread the problem has become.
“Being a Lutheran, I work full time,” Reihl continued. “Well, I lost my (full-time) job in 2008. I have three stepchildren living at my home. It’s very difficult. My wife works many, many hours – much more than she should. Between me working my part-time jobs, it’s just been so hard.”
Wondering what he might do to ease the burden of others in similar distress, Reihl recalled a quandary in which another church had recently found itself.
“I have a friend, Father Richard at Assumption Church up in Woodridge,” said Reihl. “They have a food bank. They were just telling me not too long ago that their food bank ran dry – they had to go out and buy more food to help the food bank!”
“So I decided to start reaching out there to see what we could do. It started with just talking to the local food bank. In North Arlington, it’s Queen of Peace Church.”
Hoping to assist the largest number of people possible, Reihl hatched a plan. “Let me reach out to all the churches in North Arlington,” he thought. To his delight they all jumped onboard with the idea.
“I contacted North Arlington’s Town Administrator, Mr. (Terence) Wall, and he was one hundred percent for it. They’re even giving us a little drop-off spot in (Borough) Hall!”
With this first success under his belt, Reihl’s ideas continued to blossom.
“I just sat there and my bishop was talking to me and it was almost like someone smacked me in the head. I said, ‘Why don’t we take this further?’ ”
So Reihl reached out to Lyndhurst’s St. Michael’s Church which oversees a food bank. He also touched base with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Sacred Heart churches.
Proving when it rains good will it can sometimes pour, Reihl was contacted by other churches in Kearny that had caught wind of the idea. When the Moonachie Fire Department also expressed interest, Reihl realized that he had a bona-fide help-fest on his hands!
While Reihl is respectful, almost to a fault, he has little patience for those who stand idly by on the sidelines and ask, “When are they going to fix this?” He’s quick to point out that “they” are, in fact, “we.” It’s incumbent upon us all to bring about change, stresses Reihl.
“It just takes one act of kindness in the world to make a change. It’s as simple as going into your local Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and saying to the girl there, ‘Thank you very much.’ That can change her day completely,” says Reihl.
Not surprisingly, the selfless man is quick to credit others over himself.
“This (the food drive) is about all of the people who have done the food banks, day in and day out every single year. They are really working hard to make a difference in people’s lives.”
With that, Reihl delivered a heartfelt plea to our government:
“I don’t care who the president is and I don’t care who the governor is. Whoever it is should step up to the plate and help our people out. We’re all creatures of god – we’re all God’s children. We need to help one another. If our government can’t do it, whether it’s due to a financial burden or something else, then we need to do it ourselves.
The food banks stand at the ready to receive contributions.
“A Month of Hope” seeks donations in the form of canned items, dry goods, bottled water, personal care products, etc.
Individuals are invited to drop food off at any of the following drop-off locations:
Queen of Peace Parish (Food Pantry)
10 Franklin Place
North Arlington Borough Hall
214 Ridge Rd.
75 Ridge Rd.
Knights of Columbus
194 River Rd.
440 Ridge Rd.
Local churches will also accept food donations. To make a cash donation, or for further information: call 201- 741-0881.