LAKEWOOD – A group of dedicated volunteers have paved a path for the needy, where assistance lies just steps away in the heart of the community.
Transportation accessibility – or the lack thereof – is one of the reasons the “Food Angels” chose Town Square as a convenient place to make some basic necessities readily available.
The aroma of freshly cooked meals isn’t all that draws some of the most vulnerable locals to the area every couple of weeks. Food Angels also uses its time in Town Square to bring other types of support to those who face other types of challenges that require money.
Contrary to what its name might imply, Food Angels doesn’t limit itself to nourishing bodies. They are also intent on nurturing a sense of dignity that starts with an outer appearance. Two skilled hairdressers volunteer their time, readily putting their clippers to good use. A blanket filled with folded clean clothes allows the needy to sort through donated items and take selections home at no cost.
Language barriers could make for a roadblock for those receiving a helping hand from the Food Angels. However, communication transcends words when it comes to offering assistance. An emphasis on inclusivity is underscored by the absence of questions about residency status or income. Every individual who seeks support is met with open arms.
The scene paints a portrait of empathy, and a vivid snapshot of many people in need.
Pasquale learned carpentry when he moved to the United States from Mexico more than two decades ago. He fluctuated between English to Spanish to explain that he came to the states for a better life. However, one of Pasquale’s most significant challenges in finding a job lies in his inability to provide a fixed address to prospective employers.
“I stay in an alley between buildings with many other people,” shared Pasquale. “It’s not so bad when it’s hot; much worse when it’s cold.”
It was only the second time that Pasquale made his way to visit the gathering sponsored by the Food Angels. He carefully sorted through the clothes and selected a single shirt to take away with him. Pasquale wanted to make sure he had a change of clothes for when he found a job.
The search for employment and housing appeared to be consistent with many individuals gathered in the square. As volunteer hairstylist Heather skillfully trimmed the dark locks of a man from El Salvador, there was a palpable sense of hope. He turned toward the approaching reporter, yearning for understanding and support.
“Do you have a job for me,” he asked in Spanish. “I need one and I’m ready to work.”
Neither Heather nor Adria, the other stylist, speaks Spanish themselves. Yet, they somehow manage to communicate with their Food Angel clients. They recalled another event when a man sought out their services to spruce himself up in preparation for a job interview.
A man with some special needs who’s lived in Lakewood his entire life comes regularly to visit the Food Angels. Michael’s face lit up as he described the group as a blessing and its volunteers as his friends.
“They bring us delicious food and lots of clothes,” Michael said. “They also make me feel good about myself and they believe in me.”
As dozens of people check out donated shoes and clothes to find a good fit, intriguing observations come to light. Notably, nobody is walking away with armfuls of items, and every folded piece is meticulously returned to its designated spot on the display blanket. This collective behavior emanates an aura of humility and gratitude.
Brick residents Suzy M. Raabe and James Biringer partnered to form the Food Angels organization and have about 15 members who volunteer on a regular basis. Raabe said that she met Minister Steve Brigham of Destiny’s Bridge after visiting the homeless camp formerly known as Tent City in 2020.
“Minister Steve used to do clothes distribution and I came one time to help with it,” said Raabe. “A kid came up to me and asked me if I had any food.”
Raabe said the child’s request hit her heart and resulted in the snowball effect that became Food Angels. Initially focused on providing nourishment to residents of Tent City, the organization’s mission has endured even after the Lakewood homeless camp’s closure.
On the Sundays when Food Angels come to Town Square, they are only there less than two hours. However, it’s not unusual for the group of volunteers to service a hundred people during that time period.
Meals prepared for distribution are a product of generosity from community members across Ocean County and beyond. This weekend’s offering comprised of beef stroganoff with noodles, complemented by fresh fruit, water, and iced tea. To streamline the donation process, a wish list is thoughtfully compiled in advance, specifying the quantities of items required to fulfill their mission.
Those wishing to contribute time, food or clothing to Food Angels should contact Raabe on Facebook on her personal account listed as Suzy M. Raabe.