Hundreds wait on line in heat & humidity for food

Every time there is an emergency-food event locally, it begs a question — could it get much worse than this? And, each and every time, of late, the answer is a resounding “yes.” People in West Hudson — and elsewhere — are really struggling to put food on the table.

It was no different this past weekend when, on Saturday, Aug. 8, the line for food at a special event in Harrison — at the parking lot of Holy Cross Church — stretched for two blocks for hours.

This special event — organized by Mayor James A. Fife and members of the Town Council and Joan Woods and Maria Villa — was made possible by a Hudson County-based organization called Hunger Free.

Its director, Stephanie Glover Wilson, who has been giving food to those who need it for almost five years, was on hand with a plethora of volunteers, some of whom are former “clients.”

It was a hazy and humid day, yet her enthusiasm — and all of the volunteers’ joy of being there to ensure Harrisonians didn’t go hungry — was palpable, especially when Wilson took time to speak with The Observer as truckloads of food were being delivered.

Despite the enthusiasm, Wilson says the need for food for families has never been greater.

Harrison Police Officer Allan Ford with an East Newark youngster. Photo by Kevin Canessa

“Because of the COVID virus, we’re seeing the need for double, triple the normal food delivery,” Wilson said. “I started in Bayonne and now have stretched to the entire county.”

These kinds of events have already taken place in the aforementioned Bayonne, as well as in North Hudson in West New York. Food donations flow in from Costco, Table to Table (another non-profit) and from private donors.

The food — including all kinds of produce — is always fresh, never expired (or even close to being expired.) And it’s not just food — parents with babies can get Pampers, and clothes are available for all members of the family, too.

“We just try to help everybody,” Wilson said. “We see a lot of people who are downtrodden. People are very hungry because some have lost their jobs. Like one lady told me, ‘I put gas in my car and I come to you for food. I have to put gas in the car so I can get to work.’”

Wilson says the world, as it is today because of the pandemic, has caused many to feel humbled. Some, she says, are embarrassed to have to wait on line when they were once the donors.

“I tell people to in-box me (on Facebook),” Wilson said. “No one should go hungry — no one.”

Wilson says she’s seeing all walks of life at her events.

“It’s everybody, it’s secretaries, vice-principals, everybody,” Wilson said. “It’s to the point where after we’re done here in Harrison, it’s off to Bayonne to help the people there. And if we have things left over, we’ll go to Jersey City.”

She says no one should be embarrassed — but she puts the blame on society for the stigma still attached to hunger.

Photo by Kevin Canessa

“If someone needs food, I will put it in their trunk, and on they go,” she said. “People think if you’re hungry, it means you’re homeless. We’re seeing it right here — that is not the case.”

Wilson hopes to one day handle Hunger Free as a full-time job. But since funding is tight, she does this on a voluntary basis, no salary, whilst working a full-time job in the county. She wants to increase operations eventually to run a food truck that would ultimately go to Hudson County neighborhoods where the need for hot meals is great. In essence, she’d be bring soup kitchens into the neighborhoods.

“But we need a truck,” she said.

She’s hoping someone’s generosity will bring her what she needs via a donation.

Marcello Huaranga, of Harrison, the brother of Harrison Councilman Jesus Huaranga, was also on hand as one of Wilson’s volunteers and colleagues. It was he who helped Wilson start Hunger Free when Huaranga noticed there was a great need in the Peninsula City in the south of Hudson County.

“That’s the one thing COVID kind of did — it makes everybody see that so many are in need,” Huaranga said. “It’s the day-to-day things. Food is something no child, no family should be without. Larry (Bennett), the council, the Mayor (Fife) have been great, and we say it to her, Stephanie is a God-send. She’s helped me, she’s helped a lot of these families here and a lot of these volunteers here. A lot of them come back to volunteer.”

Third Ward Councilman Larry Bennett, who attends virtually every food-insecurity event, also praised the work of Hunger Free.

“We’re not going to see God’s miracles of changing the bread or the fish,” Bennett said. “But people like you, Stephanie, who touches just one of these families, that’s God’s work. You are His eyes and His ears. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Now it wasn’t just all about food at the event, either. A DJ was on hand playing music to keep a positive vibe going — and Harrison Police Officer Allan Ford, one of the town’s school-resource officers, was also present mingling with the crowd and many of the kids who were there waiting with mom and/or dad.

Ford even took time to ride a bike with a 9-year-old East Newark boy.

“It was great,” Ford said. “I think he thought I was going to leave with his bike. Then he realized I was just there to have fun.”

Throughout the day, the mayor and Harrison First Lady Linda Fife were also on hand.

“This really is something,” the mayor said. “We’re very grateful to have an organization like this one that comes to Harrison to make sure no one goes hungry.”

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.