HILLSIDE, NJ — Acts of service mean more during these unpredictable times, as families across the state are struggling because of the harsh effects of the coronavirus. Throughout this crisis, the township of Hillside has been distributing food to its residents, aiding in the fight against hunger in any capacity it can.
Mayor Dahlia Vertreese, the town’s Community Center, the Senior Center and many local businesses have combined efforts, utilizing various methods to get food to residents, including food-distribution pickup and home delivery. They are adamant about helping Hillside residents, many of whom aren’t able to afford food and other supplies as unemployment numbers have skyrocketed across the nation since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Food distribution, which takes place at the Hillside Community Center on Wednesdays and the Hillside Senior Center on Thursdays, is sustaining residents through economically challenging times.
“This is the mayor’s initiative to address the needs of the community during COVID-19,” Hillside Senior Services Director Mary Dawkins said on May 15. “It provides to those who have food insecurities with staple goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, cleaning products, face masks, water, both perishable and nonperishable items and gift certificates to our supermarkets within town.”
Dawkins, said Vertreese, even delivers necessities to residents at their homes.
“There’s a need within our township. Many of our individuals aren’t working but they have to eat,” Dawkins said. “It’s the mayor’s responsibility to address the needs of the community. That’s why they’ve elected her. Mayor Vertreese makes deliveries herself to over 25 homes. Her presence makes a huge difference.”
According to Dawkins, the Hillside Community Center serves approximately 300 people every week while the Hillside Senior Center serves approximately 50 to 75 people every week. They also deliver to 125 homes, practicing social distancing safety measures by leaving goods on the doorstep upon arrival.
“Serving the community during this time of quarantine hasn’t been difficult,” Dawkins said. “When the cars come into the parking lot, they make a U-turn, pop the trunk of their cars, we place the goods into the trunk and they drive off.
“For people who walk up to get goods, even if they don’t have a mask, we provide one for them,” she continued. “They practice social distancing measures and are able to receive goods. For deliveries, we call them, drop the goods off on their doorstep and we leave. It’s the same system with the Hillside Senior Center. Two of the assistants at the Senior Center are making doorstep deliveries on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It’s been a smooth and easy process.”
Aiding the initiative of feeding Hillside, many businesses are contributing to the food distribution.
“We receive USDA boxes from Community FoodBank as well as state produce, and different businesses in town have contributed,” Dawkins said. “Those businesses include Seabra’s Market, Union Beverage, Ace Hardware, Speedy Mart, ShopRite, United Way of Union County, Greenlite and PepsiCo.”
The team takes pleasure in giving back during a time when residents need it the most.
“We feel great,” Dawkins said. “The team feels great. It’s a great feeling to help the residents of the town. We feel very good about working and giving back.”
Vertreese echoed Dawkins’ sentiments.
“We have a lot of essential workers and we’ve recognized that they had a lot of trouble getting to grocery stores and they have food insecurities. The larger the family, the bigger the food insecurity is. We have a lot of multigenerational families here,” Vertreese said on May 15, adding that luckily Hillside’s rate of coronavirus cases is declining. “This initiative was the No. 1 response. I tend to be a very open and accepting mayor. I have developed a very good relationship with small businesses, and the supermarkets have stepped up.”
Vertreese said the effort is made easier by everyone following the rules.
“This hasn’t been difficult. We have a very well-oiled machine,” Vertreese said. “There is limited face-to-face contact. If you don’t have a car, we deliver the goods to your home. I participate in that as well. The thing about this pandemic is it’s limiting our normal social behaviors. As essential workers, for example, there are a limited number of cashiers of about five or six. Now, these workers have to take on more work. You have to take on the work of so many more people. I’m basically finding myself doing more during this pandemic. Right now, we have to find alternatives.”
Vertreese insists that serving residents in the township is worth it.
“This is the defining moment of being a mayor,” Vertreese said. “Just showing my face and them seeing my face, it’s something magical about seeing people. Sometimes, we take that for granted. That’s why I do it every week. It’s reassurance for me to see the people still thriving. For me, every Wednesday and Thursday seeing the same faces, it inspires me to keep moving.”
Photo Courtesy of David Cummings