Joe Malinconico Paterson Press

Published 4:06 a.m. ET Jul., 22, 2020

PATERSON — In the midst of a summer heat wave, Sarrie Bailey walked 20 minutes with aching knees on Tuesday afternoon to make sure she and her 6-year-old granddaughter would have enough to eat this week.

Bailey said she doesn’t like to go outside much these days for fear of getting COVID-19. But the grandmother said the economic problems caused by the health crisis have stretched her food budget beyond what her monthly disability check can cover.

So Bailey made the trip from her home in Paterson’s 5th Ward to Barbour Park in the 4th Ward after she heard community groups would be distributing fresh produce for free.

“I’d never be able to make it without getting things like this,” Bailey said, as she pulled a small cart loaded with potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery and tomatoes.

The produce distribution at the park stemmed from a budding relationship between the Palestinian American Community Center, which is based in Clifton, and the Humble Beginnings nonprofit group, which operates in Paterson’s impoverished 1st and 4th wards.

The Palestinian group, which includes many members from South Paterson, had food left after distributing supplies to 550 needy families, said its executive director, Rania Mustafa. So the organization contacted Humble Beginning and arranged to give out the extra food to people in the 4th Ward, she said.

“We thought, ‘Why not share the love?’” said Mustafa.

In addition to Tuesday’s event, the two groups plan to hand out food at a mosque on Broadway in the 4th Ward each of the next four weeks, organizers said.

“We need to be partners and collaborate with people to get the resources we need,” said Akbar McEntyre, one of the founders of Humble Beginnings. “We need each other,” he added. “We can’t be divided in these difficult times.”

As a result, several black-white-green-and-red Palestinian flags flapped in the occasional breeze in Barbour Park on Tuesday. The park once had been a haven for junkies in a drug-infested neighborhood, but neighborhood activists in recent years have staged a series of events there in an effort to reclaim the park. City officials usually keep the gates locked – opening them only for community events – in order to keep the drug addicts out.

The early turnout of people picking up the produce was light. But McEntyre predicted word would spread as the day went on. A man riding his bicycle on nearby Fair Street saw the boxes and produce and ended up getting a plastic bag filled with apples and oranges. A motorist stopped on Broadway, looked through the chain link fence and decided to get some food.

Bailey, the woman who walked to the park from the 5th Ward, said she was doing fine with food until her 47-year-old son, who lives in South Jersey, lost his job as a truck driver because of the coronavirus. She said she ended up taking in her granddaughter as her son tried to find work.

Having an extra person to feed has been tough, she said. There have been times when all she had in the house was a loaf of bread and half a container of milk, Bailey said.

“Then I have to go borrow some money from somebody to get some things,” she said. “I pay ’em back when my check comes.”

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email:

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