What a record to set, and what an environment in which to set it. Because of the pandemic, many more families reached out to Project Self-Sufficiency requesting a Thanksgiving meal, and despite the pandemic, the non-profit prepared more than 450 meals, including turkey and all the trimmings.
“It was a true community effort,” said Deborah Berry-Toon, executive director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “The outpouring from people to donate food and money so that it could be purchased was incredible.”
Local businesses, churches, and individuals donated voluminous amounts of food. Agency staff and volunteers bagged hundreds of frozen turkeys, fresh produce, cans of cranberry sauce and vegetables, stuffing mix, dinner rolls, and freshly baked pies, then distributed them to local families on Monday for those who had registered for pick-ups, following Covid protocols.
“The public health crisis has plunged many of our participants into a situation where food insecurity has become a deeply troubling issue,” Berry-Toon said. “The overwhelming generosity of our friends and neighbors is appreciated now more than ever. Despite the pandemic, we still have a lot to be thankful for this year.”
In contrast to most years, the indoor assembly line had to move outside, under tents. A little divine intervention came into play as the rain and wind moved out shortly before the bagging. “This year, it was all staff that did the bagging, while usually we get a number of volunteers to help,” Berry-Toon said. “Consequently, we started bagging the canned goods a bit earlier.”
Thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables were provided by longtime Project Self-Sufficiency volunteer Michael McNamara and his family in recognition of McNamara’s recent birthday. “My whole family is involved in supporting Project Self-Sufficiency all year long,” McNamara said. “At this time of year, we are celebrating my wedding anniversary and my birthday along with Thanksgiving. I have been fortunate in my life, and I am honored to be able to use this opportunity to help those in need. Especially this year, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together.”
‘College of Knowledge’
For its 13th year, the First Presbyterian Church of Newton Youth Group, along with help from the congregation, donated 200 freshly baked pumpkin pies. Fresh fruit was supplied by John Mathews, and retired Project Self-Sufficiency staff member and current volunteer, Stephanie Sumpman and her husband, Glen. Frozen turkeys were donated by an ad hoc group of about 20 people known loosely as the “College of Knowledge.” The donation was spearheaded by Project Self-Sufficiency Leadership Council member Roy Knutsen. The group meets at Kathy’s restaurant in Fredon and has supported everything from baseball teams to the local fire department.
A joint Thanksgiving food drive was also conducted by board member Dee Fernandez and Leadership Council member Kathy Nauta, with the help of their friends, families, and neighbors, culminating in donations of gift cards and funds to purchase bushels of canned goods and fresh produce.
Mary and Jim DiCarlo donated 200 frozen turkeys with the help of Hayek’s Market, which secured and delivered the turkeys to Project Self-Sufficiency.
“The thing that impresses me the most about Project Self-Sufficiency is their mission to help make families self-reliant,” Mary DiCarlo said. “They offer such comprehensive programs, and they have a monumental impact on the community. You cannot find a better organization that brings their level of success. In this economic climate it is so important for people to support those of our community who are struggling now, and I am happy to be in a position to do so. Our grandparents were impoverished immigrants who had nothing and lived on the kindness of others.”
Generous donations of turkeys, food, baked goods, gift cards, and funds were also received from Fran and Tom Diffley; Girl Scout Troop #97317 of Hardyston and Franklin; Kiddie Academy of Sparta; Reverend Brown Elementary School; and numerous other individuals and families.
“I come from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, so I know the importance of providing these dinners to the community,” said Xavier Gonzalez of Newton, who was helping bag dinners as part of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Youth Corps on Monday. Adrianna Smith, of Hopatcong, was also working on the assembly line as part of the Youth Corps. “I think it’s so great that we can help out to help so many families,” she said.
Once Thanksgiving has passed, Project Self-Sufficiency will be opening its Toy Shop. Families can register to receive toys by visiting the agency’s website. Toys, gift cards, and donations are greatly needed and appreciated for the toy shop.
Straus News was given a peek inside. Staff members of Project Self-Sufficiency will shop for families in need while they wait outside, as per Covid protocols. As they wait, a dynamic musical compilation video of holiday music, created by Project Self-Sufficiency’s publicist, Lisa Pachnos, will regale the parking lot.
“Donations are needed,” said Berry-Toon. “We had 6,000 toys last year and this year we have 2,000.”
To donate, or to find out more about the programs and services available at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit projectselfsufficiency.org.
“I come from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, so I know the importance of providing these dinners to the community.” Xavier Gonzalez, volunteer