By: Gabrielle Mills, Follow South Jersey Intern
PATERSON, N.J. — A sturdy red brick warehouse sits on a corner in Paterson’s Downton hub. Its exterior boasts a colorful mural that reads “nourishment and growth.” Inside is one of the city’s most prolific anti-hunger organizations. More than what the mural depicts, CUMAC, an acronym for Center for United Methodist Aid to the Community, is not just a food bank.
Founded in 1985 by Methodist pastor and Paterson public school teacher Hugh Dunlop, CUMAC started small. Dunlop noticed that his students came to school hungry and began stocking his station wagon with snacks. Soon it became a place where Dunlop’s students could find food that was otherwise lacking at home.
Now, in its current facility, CUMAC processes millions of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and canned goods yearly. According to their website, in 2020 the nonprofit collected 1,938,427 pounds of food. Through CUMAC, residents of Paterson, and Passaic County can find nutritious, quality food for free.
Since its inception, CUMAC has expanded its mission beyond food distribution.
“Ending Hunger has little to do with just giving people food,” CUMAC Director Mark Dinglasan said. “The organization now takes a holistic approach, hoping to end hunger by addressing the problem at its roots.” For CUMAC this means working to solve issues inflicted by poverty, systemic racism, and of course food inequality.
This is what CUMAC refers to as their “Trauma-Informed Approach,” a methodology that aims to meet clients where they are, recognizing that their varied backgrounds, and experiences inform how clients respond to aid. This approach is also evidenced in their emphasis on preventing and treating Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES, an issue that according to the CDC “can have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity.”
Dinglasan said that CUMAC continues to focus on people’s needs beyond hunger.
“CUMAC’s lane is food justice,” Dinglasan said. “Is the food we’re providing equitable? Do people feel safe coming here? How that evolves is always going to be number one.”
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