Paterson opens food pantry for veterans

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

They fight overseas and then come home and, hard to believe, end up homeless, or simply hungry.

On Monday, a group of Paterson residents opened a food pantry exclusively for veterans and military families. It started with one good Samaritan delivering food to indigent veterans at home.

“We decided to really go and set up a space, and buy food, and go out and outreach to veterans. We’ll see,” said Irma Gorham, president of the Great Falls Rotary Foundation.

The pantry is a collaboration between the Great Falls Rotary Foundation and the Passaic County Board of Realtors. It’s open the third Saturday of every month.

Congressman Bill Pascrell was once mayor of the city.

“Irma said before, if we can’t do this for the veterans, who the heck can we do it for? We have obligations and responsibilities. We’re not doing veterans any favors,” Pascrell said.

The pantry is housed in a senior public housing complex in Paterson. Supporters crammed into its small community room Monday morning, local veterans included.

Sgt. James Williams was in the Army for 36 years.

“We need the support, and right now with all the servicemen coming back from the war, this is a great thing that could happen right now for the city of Paterson,” said Williams.

The current mayor, Jane Williams-Warren, who was appointed in October, lent her support.

“My father was a veteran, my husband is a disabled veteran from Vietnam, my brother is a veteran. I have a lot of family members who are veterans, and I am thankful for the services that Congressman Pascrell has brought to the city because there was a time when they had to travel all the way to East Orange in order to get services. Now they can get them right here in our city, right here in our hospital,” said Williams-Warren.

Former Air Force officer Marcenia Cofield says she was once homeless herself. Some veterans don’t want to identify as such, she says.

“A lot of them were Vietnam veterans. They were not welcomed when they came back from the war. A lot of them suffer from mental health conditions and they’re a lot of trust issues veterans have, so they don’t identify as veterans,” said Cofield.

Funding for the food pantry is a mix of county funds and private donations.

“I think this pantry is a wonderful idea. I think it’s long overdue. I think it’s something that should have been done a long time ago. As you know, we’ve been collecting funding over the past two years and now to see it come to fruition, and on the third Saturday of March, once you guys and you’ll really see the real meat and potatoes of what we’ve been trying to do here over the past two years,” said the manager of the Carlstadt branch of Lakeland Bank, Perry Lighty.

Apparently in Paterson the need is real.

“It’ll help. It’s a starting point for assistance. Hopefully it’ll get bigger and better,” said Navy veteran Jose DeLeon.

Andre Sayegh, a Paterson city councilman running for mayor, agrees.

“They’ve served our country so it’s only fitting that we return the favor,” said Sayegh.

Officials say there are 27,000 veterans in Passaic County. The new food pantry hopes to supply 50 to 75 of them once a month.