The student leadership heading up the Paladin Pantry is as committed to its growth and success as they are to their high ideals of academic success.

It all began with a simple idea.

For nearly 20 years, the Bridges Outreach in Summit operated the area’s most impactful food pantry serving the poor and needy in northern New Jersey. But, with the pandemic of 2020-23, all that changed.

Paramus Catholic Director of Admissions, Jean Cousins, approached long-time Dean of Campus Ministry, Michael Shea, with a simple idea. How can we address this void here, at Paramus Catholic? What if we stepped up and opened a pantry from school?

The idea was not without issues. Where would we safely do this?  Who/how would we staff it, both during and after school? How would we get food to people?

Early discussions were positive. Dr. Stephanie Macaluso, president/principal of Paramus Catholic embraced the idea, supportive of student-led programs and service projects.  With a minor concern that a program would start and not get off the ground, it seemed paramount that not too much be done too soon. Still, feeling led to fill the void and determined to make a difference, in the summer of 2023, the Paladin Food Pantry was born.

From the onset, it would be students in charge of putting it together and operating it. “Student leadership, by youth, with youth, for youth,” Shea said.

A large former classroom being used for storage was identified on the south side of PC’s sprawling campus. It took very little convincing the growing student volunteers who rallied their peers and took the initiative to clean out the room.  They completely disinfected the space over the late summer as school approached and put all types of shelving together.

In September of 2023, the first collection of food took place.

The student leadership heading up the Paladin Pantry is as committed to its growth and success as they are to their high ideals of academic success. Junior Jeremy Lebowitz developed a system for rotation of contributed foods to ensure freshness and availability. He posts notices and gives instructions about what services and goods are needed. He oversees the meetings held regularly.

Lebowitz’s partners in leadership share his commitment to the pantry.  Juniors Nicola Luz and Riccardo Messina coordinate with the service clubs, oversee the program and create regular outreach such as the Class Food Drive competitions and food drives at football games and other school events which can bring in 50 or 60 contributions at a time.

Junior Alexandra Uhl created the logo for the pantry as part of her work in the graphics arts program.

The students advertise on social media for people to bring canned goods to the school, which has easy access directly curbside into the pantry room. Often, donors will contribute cash to help purchase food items and cover the expenses of running the pantry. It has become completely entrepreneurial, with students experiencing pride in addition to satisfaction of the heart seeing the fruit of their work.

Supplying the pantry has become a regular endeavor in both the clubs and pantry outreach and marketing committees. The pantry requires a regular flow of canned goods, pastas, beans, canned vegetables, cereals as well as diapers and toiletries.

The pantry regularly serves over a dozen bags of food weekly to various families, including the family of a PC alumni whose home was destroyed in a fire. In addition, the pantry has begun to supply the feeding pantry in Rochelle Park, Mercy House in Newark, and other distribution sites for people to pick food up at.

As of this writing, there are 61 students actively participating in the Paladin Pantry project through the Food Pantry Club at PC. Additionally, more than 132 service club volunteers from other clubs at Paramus Catholic coordinate with them and volunteer their time and treasury to build the pantry.

The Paladin Pantry stands as the latest  evidence of the school’s “Pillars” of its philosophy — faith and wellness alongside academics and security.

“These students are living St. Paul’s directive to young Timothy in the New Testament book of 1st Timothy, 4:12,” Shea said. “They are ‘being examples even in their youth’ to the community and to believers as well.”

Those seeking to help with cash contributions for expenses or for donating canned goods and supplies may do so by contacting the Paladin Pantry at 201-445-4466 ext. 117 or by mail to 425 Paramus Road, Paramus, N.J. 07652.