Photos: A few selections from the collection taken by Ed Leonard.
By: Pamela Macek
Nobody wants to think that there are people living right here in our own neighborhoods going hungry at night. Food scarcity is something that should be all but non-existent in the world we live in today. Unfortunately, it is not, but thankfully, there are still many folks who want to work towards eradicating this problem. Doug Cook, co-chair of Grains of Hope, a local non-profit organization, shares how their efforts are making an impact that reaches people far beyond their own community.
Cook is president of Community Partners for Hope, a 501c3 organization which seeks to raise awareness, advocate and take action to address societal issues of food insecurity, bullying, addiction, depression and suicide. He has been at the helm of this organization since its inception and has witnessed how lives are changed for the better when people get involved and work together to bring hope in the form of tangible acts of service to others.
When discussing the history of Grains of Hope, Cook shared, “Nine years ago, Kathleen Edwards-Chase, Pastor with the First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains (FRC), was the original founder of a congregational food packing event as part of her church’s effort to live out service to the community. It was held in the church’s Friendship Hall and supported by the Rotary, Boy Scouts, Womens Hands in Mission and the PTHS French Club.
In 2011, Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on Pequannock Township, with tremendous flooding, extensive power outages and road closures that cut the town off from access to fresh food and supplies. The town came together as volunteers and organizations partnered together to help impacted households. Teams of people set up an emergency response center at the FRC, triaging issues, cooking and serving nutritious hot meals, offering free cleaning and disinfecting materials, deploying demo crews, providing from-home laundry services, donating school supplies, and so much more. In the wake of that disaster, FRC Pastor Chad De Jaeger seized the opportunity to turn the legacy of the community response into a community-wide vision.”
At that time, Doug Cook was the Pequannock Valley Rotary President. Pastor De Jaeger and Cook formed a team and set out to partner with other houses of worship and service organizations, attract financial sponsors, and invite volunteership under a new banner which was then dubbed, “Grains of Hope.” The event then moved to the Middle School, where it has been held ever since, supported by 14 partner organizations which work year-round to plan, fundraise and organize the event.
Grains of Hope has a specific mission, which now goes beyond Pequannock Township. Cook explained that, “Grains of Hope was formed to address the problem of food insecurity both here in New Jersey and in Haiti. We accomplish this by hosting a community-driven, annual food-packing event. In the past year, we have also begun assisting other organizations who wish to expand this mission by organizing and running their own event.” Currently, Grains of Hope gives half of what they package to the NJ Food Bank and half to Haiti. Meals sent to the food bank are distributed throughout the state. Holy Name Hospital Foundation oversees the food delivery and distribution in Haiti.
The impact on those volunteering is quite visible here at home. Cook shared, “We had over 1,100 individuals participate of which approximately 20% are under the age of 18. They are gaining firsthand experience in volunteerism and giving back to their communities to those in need. Michele Crefeld is a Pequannock Township High School French teacher who has participated in the food packing event since its original inception at FRC and has also participated in several community service trips to Haiti. She shares with her students every year the remarkable experience of being in a poverty-stricken community in Haiti and seeing boxes of the Grains of Hope meals on site. “To watch children, their parents and their grandparents all packaging food for someone they will never meet is truly inspiring.”
While challenges to raise funds and ensure there are sufficient volunteers are faced, the organization is determined to stay the course. Grains of Hope is sustained by donations from each of their partners and the public. This year’s food-packing event brought together over 1,000 volunteers, cost $45,000, and resulted in 175,404 meals packed. For 2020, Grains of Hope seeks to raise $51,000 and pack over 200,000 meals.
In the last two years Grains of Hope has helped the local Rotary district 7475 plan and package over 300,000 meals. They are now reaching out to encourage ore organizations to host their own events, with the focused goal of packing and shipping one million meals per year. Cook’s message to others is, “to get involved in your community and reach out to help others who are in need.”