The 10th anniversary of the Bayonne Helping Hands program is being held in conjunction with a food drive in the schools to help eight food pantries that are part of the Coalition of Bayonne Food Pantries.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan – with the approval of the Board of Education – said the schools are conducting food drives throughout the school system until Feb. 20. The drive is called “Bayonne Caring and Sharing Food Drive – Open Your Heart to Others.”
Established by Maribeth Doria, BEOF Executive Director Elenore Tiefenwerth, then Mayor Dennis Collins, Adriane Sclafane and James Mahon in 1999, Helping Hands was designed to help people year-round rather than just around the traditional holidays. Maribeth Doria said that in 1999, she noticed that there were numerous organizations, clubs and schools that performed charitable deeds – such as food drive collections, clothing drives and other monetary donations – which were given to causes and holiday fund drives.
“After the holiday season was over, I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be wonder for people to help people all year round?’" she said.
She knew a need existed for a program to mobilize the many individuals and students in Bayonne to directly help people in a time of need. As a result of this thought, five people got together and came up with the Bayonne Helping Hands program.
Doria said this program assists needy individuals in the community who might fall through the cracks of existing programs.
When a fire developed in October 1999 on Broadway and 34th Street – a fire which destroyed a building and left 18 families homeless – Helping Hands lent their assistance, providing accommodations for the residents and paying for the first month's rent on new apartments.
"What we never dreamed of were the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001," Doria said.
Helping Hands was able to help those families affected by the disaster.
"I was certainly impressed and touched as to how our community rallied together to help these families," Doria said.
Residents wrapped pennies, sold cakes and held car washes to donate to Helping Hands, while numerous individuals, groups, businesses and organizationsmade generous contributions to the program.
The funding for the program comes out of donations, including fundraising efforts by people like Assemblyman and Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone.
Led by Dr. McGeehan, the Bayonne public schools raised $20,000 for Helping Hands. In one case, Doria recalled, Bayonne students gave a check to Tiefenwerth from money they had raised picking apples off their families’ trees and selling them. Over the last five or six years, one Bayonne resident routinely donates $25 each month with a personal note to the organizers.
"This is a person who does not have a lot of money," said Tiefenwerth.
Tiefenwerth said the program is especially tailored to help those waiting to qualify for specific government assistance.
She said often individuals or families seeking any emergency assistance might require alternative resources, as well. Doria recalled a 91 year old man who was diagnosed with diabetes, and who had never signed up with Medicaid. Bayonne Helping Hands purchased his insulin during the 30 to 60 day waiting period before he could collect his benefits. In another case, Helping Hands provided transportation in an emergency that had involved a death in the family. Tiefenwerth said during the regional blackout in 2002, Helping Hands – with the aid of students – distributed battery operated radios and flash lights.
Helping Hands also provides a holiday "Gift of Friendship" box to Bayonne shut-ins, "Gift from the Heart" baskets for Bayonne residents residing in nearby nursing homes, visits by Elmo (who distributes toys to young patients), and a "Safe at Home" program for Bayonne shut-ins.
“It takes a community to feed a community.” -- Maribeth Doria
"The program is a measure of how much people care about each other in Bayonne," she said.
“It takes a community to feed a community,” Doria said.
Former Mayor Collins said that everybody knows the national economy has taken a serious downfall.
“It is at these times that Bayonne people always show how great this community really is,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.