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Fighting Hunger with Community

If you visit ShopRite to buy groceries, chances are you’ve seen Hoboken Grace there at some point accepting donations for In Jesus Name Charities. Through blistering summers and chilly winters, a team from Hoboken Grace helps keep In Jesus Name stocked by asking shoppers to donate items for local families in need. It’s just one of the ways the church tries to support one of Hoboken’s oldest charities.

“Your community has been a great blessing to In Jesus Name,” said April Harris, founder of the charity and its leader for the past 35 years. “It was an easy fit for Hoboken Grace because of the fact of their philosophy of Christianity in action. They look for opportunities for the church to help out the community.”

In Jesus Name traces its beginnings back to 1981, when the Regan administration announced cuts to food stamps. April was attending Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents and grew concerned about how the cuts would affect people in Hoboken. At the time, 20 percent of the city’s residents lived in poverty.

“I knew there were people going hungry at the end of the month no matter what they were doing to budget,” she said.

In response, she set up donations at her church and asked if people would contribute food. This soon caught the attention of the rector, who asked if she could use clothing as well. April naturally agreed, and the rector placed an announcement for donations in the church newsletter.

No sooner did this happen, however, that another fire hit Hoboken. Long before the city became a target for luxury apartments, arson was a frequent problem. Following a candlelight vigil for two children who had died in the fire, the Hoboken Clergy Coalition, composed of a variety of faith traditions, formed In Jesus Name as a way to respond to the fire victims and poverty being witnessed in the community. April Harris has lead the charity ever since, and is grateful for the opportunities it has given her to serve Christ.

“To me it’s an honor and privilege just to do this with my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.

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In Jesus Name wouldn’t exist without volunteer labor. Nobody is salaried, including April, who has a commitment to voluntary poverty as a Secular Franciscan. As such, the help the ministry offers is highly tailored to the needs of individual members of the community. April fields calls for donations and pickup appointments on a full-time basis, and the pantry itself is open every other day, aided by a rotating staff of volunteers.

“You have to be very creative so that you can meet all the diversity of kindness,” said April. “You need to make the ministry available in the evening for volunteers and donors, the weekends or during the day. That’s why the hours fluctuate.”

The all-volunteer staff also means that their overhead is almost non-existent, with all donations going straight to families in need. As such, April ensures all of the donations that come in are used for a specific purpose, whether that be to feed a family in need, or to provide diapers to a family with a new baby. Each of the 800 individuals who receive assistance are registered with the charity, although most do not require help every month and come only when they have a specific need. The charity is also working on finding volunteers to provide nutritious meals for the sick and elderly — people who need healthy food most but are usually unable to afford it.

“That’s terrible,” April said. “To be poor, to be hungry, to be sick, and then to not be able to eat right on top of it.”

April says Hoboken Grace has been a tremendous help to the organization not only because it actively seek ways to help the community, but because the monthly collection table allows the charity to regularly collect food.

“That’s actually one of the most stable collections, because it’s repetitive on a monthly basis,” she said.

Staffing the food pantry and the donation table is just one way volunteers can help, however.

“This is a service to God that any Christian who wants to find a way to serve Christ can find something to do,” April said. “And I can let them know of other needs of their poorer neighbors.”

If you’re interested in joining the Collection Table Team at Hoboken Grace or interested in more ways you can volunteer and support In Jesus Name Charities, email Anthony at anthony@hobokengrace.com. To contact In Jesus Name Charities, located in the basement of the Our Lady of Grace parish center at 411 Clinton St., email InJesusNameCharities@gmail.com or call 201-792-2112.

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