WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW AT THE MARK:
PANTRY IN THE TIME OF COVID
Change, change, change. Covid-19 has brought plenty of changes to the Fisherman’s Mark Food Pantry.
In February we began to consider the possible effects of a pandemic and
planned for changes. At first this only meant posting signs to remind clients
to cover sneezes, wash hands “correctly”, and asking them to stay outside
if they had flu-like symptoms. As we learned more about the disease and
the pandemic, volunteers and staff began to express discomfort about
possible exposure from working in close quarters around so many people.
Some volunteers asked to be taken off the schedule. We ordered sanitizer
and gloves, and we began to wipe down contact surfaces throughout the
office, two or three times a day. We discussed limiting access to the building,
working from home options, and self-quarantine, and agreed that if any one
of us “got Covid” we’d probably have to shut down the operations completely.
Before the official shutdown/quarantine began in New Jersey, we agreed the
best practice and safest course would be a “No touch” pantry experience. But what would that mean??
• No long line passing through the building. We had to move the operation to the front away from the back interior
of the building. Luckily, we are located in an old firehouse. We can raise our firetruck-sized garage door during good
weather to expose the office as a storefront. We placed large tables to block access to “the garage” with 6 to 8 foot
spacing behind, placed some signs and began the new system. We measured spaces and placed florescent orange
tape on the apron and sidewalk.
• Pre-packed bags are the starting point. Creating a list of staples, we packed grocery bags in advance, bringing them
to the front for distribution. Unfortunately for safety, we’ve had to rely on plastic and paper bags.
The New Normal In the Time of Covid – The Changes – What happened? Over the course of March and April, while most of
New Jersey was on “shutdown”, our food pantry shifted from a well-staffed, fairly relaxed, low pressure environment, to an
efficient, high volume, rapid turnover operation staffed by fewer volunteers, distributing 30% more food directly out our
front door to our existing clients and to an additional 300 new families in our service area. Briefly we ended up with the
closing inventories of the local restaurants and cafes that were shutting down, and through social media postings we’ve
been able to request and refine calls for specific groceries. Community groups, neighborhoods, churches, individuals, and
businesses have been absolutely tremendous in stepping up their response to help us meet the increased need.
We’ve changed and adapted. We’ve been careful and fortunate, we have washed our hands a lot and we have been able
to stay open and operational.
How long can this go on? We are optimistic that we can continue our operation in this manner through the Fall.
Realistically, we need to make additional changes to bring our “No Touch” pantry inside to function in bad weather or the
cold of Winter. Many volunteers have reached out, seeking ways to assist with our “new” pantry. With their help, with our
dedicated staff and volunteers, and with the generous contributions of all of our “river towns” and region, we’ll continue
to adapt—and whatever the changes bring, we expect to continue to serve the Fisherman’s Mark community into the
future, and beyond the Time of Covid.
FISHERMAN’S MARK CELEBRATES 40 YEARS,
THANKS TO COMMUNITY SUPPORT
For forty years, Fisherman’s Mark has aided our clients
and community through the aftermath of large and
small economic and natural disasters – storms, floods,
“the Great Recession”, as well as the smaller crises that
affect individuals and families. With forty years of caring
for our community, we are “Help When Help is Needed”.
The most recent events, though intense, difficult, and
far reaching, are any more insurmountable than those
we have overcome in the past.
How has a small non-profit survived the changes and
challenges of forty years? Largely through the generous
spirit of our community—a community of businesses,
organizations and people that not only believe in us
but support the work we do. We had planned to mark
2020 as the year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of
Fisherman’s Mark! Instead, we are turning our attention
to celebrate all those who have supported us through
the years and the many new donors who understood
the need and responded —especially now, when the
need is greater than ever.
We celebrate with gratitude the donations and
contributions of volunteers, businesses, community
leaders, first responders, students, teachers, families
and all the individuals and organizations who aid us
so we can nurture the community as a whole. Our
community needs us, they are here for us, and we are
here for them.
Though we try to reach out individually, we know we can’t sufficiently thank all of our supporters! This is a community
like no other, a community that believes in helping their most vulnerable neighbors.
A community that we are proud to be a part of! These are difficult times, but brighter days are ahead for us all, and
especially for our clients, thanks to a community that has supported us. We needed you and you were there for us!
With an abundance of gratitude,
CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP AT FISHERMAN’S MARK
Linda Meacham stepped down as Executive Director of Fisherman’s Mark and Jennifer Williford stepped up a mere 8 weeks before Covid-19 was
declared a pandemic. They got together in late May for a long-distance conversation about what brought them to Fisherman’s Mark, their highs
and lows as Executive Directors and their wishes for Fisherman Mark’s future.
Linda: Jenn, what were the first few weeks like for you and your team?
Jenn: A whirlwind would be putting it mildly. I hired two new staff members at the beginning of March: a new Manager
of Social Work and a new Manager of Community Engagement. As soon as they started we went into COVID crisis. I must
say that I feel as though it has brought out the best in us as a team. We all learned to work together really fast. I am so
very proud of how all of us adjusted, of how quickly we created new protocols and safety measures for food distribution.
Linda: I completely agree – a crisis really teaches you what an organization is capable of. My Fisherman’s Mark crisis hit
in 2011 when I learned from the IRS that we were on the brink of being shut down. We had to confront the state of our
finances and make the changes necessary to turn the agency around while staying true to our mission. I really don’t
know how I survived, but with help from the Board and staff, I figured it out. We fixed the financial issues and kept the
doors open. Just talking about it now makes me so proud.
Jenn: You started with FM in 2011 as a volunteer. Your experience was in the corporate sector, handling marketing for
pharma, cosmetics and fragrance industries. What motivated you to take on the job of ED? It seems so unrelated.
Linda: The challenge. The difference I believed I could make. The ability to rise above the odds. The amazing staff, volunteers
and board that we always seem to find. One of our Board members, Suzanne Perrault, calls it our magic. What about you?
What brought you to Fisherman’s Mark?
Jenn: I had just begun thinking about going back to work in non-profit in July 2018 when I saw the posting for the job of
Volunteer and Special Events Coordinator. I’ll never forget the description of Fisherman’s Mark in the ad – “a small but
mighty organization”. I was so drawn to that description and the mission that I applied.
Linda: Did you have any doubts about taking over as ED?
Jenn: None. I love this organization. I had already developed an enormous respect for you – the culture that you created in
the workplace and your passion for our mission. I was honored to be considered for the ED role and felt ready to follow in
your footsteps. I truly feel as though I have the best job ever! Do you miss it?
Linda: I miss everything except the constant pressure to raise the funds needed to help all the clients who need us. How’s
it going, by the way?
Jenn: We always say that this organization is about neighbors helping neighbors and that’s just what we’re seeing. There’s
been an outpouring of support. It’s so motivating. Of course, the need for FM services has also increased enormously. It’s
mostly about food scarcity right now, but as the crisis continues to unfold, there will be a greater need for social services.
Our goal, as you well know, is to ensure that we are taking care of the whole client and getting them to self-sufficiency.
Linda: There’s always more to do, isn’t there? And there’s never quite enough time or support. I guess that’s the non-profit
Jenn: Many people in our community know about FM, but so many don’t. My dream is that every household in Lambertville
and New Hope could know us. I’m sure that if all our neighbors knew everything we do, from food support to childhood
education and case management, and how wisely we spend our donors’ money, they’d be motivated to give – a little or
Linda: The CD-19 pandemic hit just as I was retiring. Part of me says I need a break and want NO responsibility. But the
Jenn: So this is a good opportunity to thank you for being so generous to me in the past two months when I’ve needed
Linda: It’s so good to be useful but not ultimately in charge! Call anytime.