Yesterday afternoon, I joined with the chairwoman of Saint Matthew’s Samaritans, Evelyn Comer, at the new Bergen County homeless facility on East Broadway in Hackensack to gauge how the new facility serves dinner. Through the Interreligous Fellowship for the Homeless, Saint Matthew’s will serve dinner at the facility on February 19th. Our collective intentions were simple – to see the kitchen, how dinner and dessert are served, and maybe meet some of the directors, though I didn’t think this was possible.
We arrived at 4:30pm, about a half-hour before the start of dinner service. The newly constructed facility (it only opened last July) houses 90 individuals as they transition themselves to living in permanent housing. Additionally, there is a first-class medical area, offices and rooms for outside organizations to provide services and help to the homeless of the county, and, of course, the walk-in dining area.
Evelyn and I entered the facility through the main door, which opens up into a spacious area where a manned front desk and security guard were on call. After “checking in,” the security guard showed us to the dining area. Nancy Woods, one of the directors with the IRF, showed us around the beautiful kitchen area. As Evelyn and I were on our little tour, we found out that a group from Bergen Catholic High School in Paramus was unable to serve the dinner that night. They delivered their meal — baked ziti, meatballs, salad with Creamy Italian dressing, and apple turnovers — but they couldn’t serve. The bus that was to take the students to the facility was not able to take them back to the school, which, of course, causes a little bit of a problem.
In tight jams like this, IRF volunteers come in to staff the dinner service. As Evelyn and I heard about their little plight, we offered to help them with serving dinner. I was on salad patrol — dishing up the pre-mixed, pre-dressed salad into bowls — and making them available for the diners. Having the opportunity to greet the nearly 125 people who came for dinner was blessing. A smile, a “good evening,” and a “God bless you” go a long way in the hearts of God’s children, especially those who, if circumstances were different, would not be at the facility for dinner.
As the rush died down a bit, the director of the facility, Julia Orlando, came in to see how things were going. After talking a bit, she said she was taking a colleague and friend of hers on a tour of the building and offered me the chance to join them. Evelyn, who was on butter, dish, and utensil patrol, as well as a fellow server, Chris, came on the tour with us. The two-storied facility is really first-class. It houses nearly all of the homeless services and programs offered by the county and outside organizations, which is a real blessing for those who need the help. There is no need to travel across Hackensack or even the county to get help; it is all right there in one building.
After the tour, and learning that they have a donation area for books (if anyone here at Saint Matthew’s has a few books at home that they are not using and they are in good condition, bring them to church and I will deliver them), Evelyn and I returned to our assigned tasks, but by then, dinner service was complete. The volunteer staff had just about finished the clean up of the kitchen area, so Evelyn and I took our experiences and returned home.
The Samaritans will serve a dinner at the facility on Friday, February 19th. To help defray costs, we will be taking a collection next week during the Souper Bowl of Caring. All of your donations go to help those in need. Next Sunday, please remember the Samaritans. Please remember those in need here in Bergen County.