“Sharing food is particularly special to my family. It’s a really important part of our faith,” said Tammy Fisher, a member of the Muslim faith who lives in midtown Bayonne. “It’s mentioned in the Quran. It’s mentioned in the sayings of the prophet. It’s said the believer shouldn’t let his neighbor go hungry. I definitely think that’s something all faiths have in common.”
Fisher, 37, her husband, and her kids regularly seek out volunteer opportunities “but we rarely find things to do in Bayonne,” she said. Last July, she and her family volunteered at the soup kitchen, then brought the idea back to the Muslim community in Bayonne.
“I knew that when I brought the idea to them, I would have enough volunteers,” said Fisher. “We always have people ready and willing to do stuff like this.”
Hudson County has 822 chronically homeless people, according to an annual count conducted by United Way in the winter of 2017. And the conditions for the homeless are not getting much better, as housing, education, and healthcare costs continue to rise. Even though who have housing may be in need of food.
“When we first started mixing with all different religions, there was a little bit of an upset in the kitchen because they said it was a Catholic ministry. But I felt like that it should be open to everyone,” said Anita Neil, who has organized the Bayonne Soup Kitchen since its inception in 2007. “Regardless of backlash, we continued. People’s hearts have changed, and people’s minds have changed. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch this change in people and the family we became, regardless of nationality and religion.”
“Sharing food is particularly special to my family. It’s a really important part of our faith.” – Tammy Fisher
The Bayonne Soup Kitchen started in cooperation between St. Andrew’s, St. Mary’s, and Our Lady of Assumption Church, which later merged into Blessed Miram Teresa Parish.
Since last July, Neil and Fisher have become close friends. “We come from different backgrounds, but we learn a lot from each other,” said Neil. “Having this diversity at the kitchen has made it a success because we have different input and suggestions in running the kitchen.”
“We are appreciative of the opportunity and the trust the people running the soup kitchen have in us, so we’re really grateful,” said Waheed Akbar, a member of the Muslim community in Bayonne who also volunteered at the kitchen in July. “We want to give back to the community as much as we can.”
As the Bayonne community grows more inclusive and diverse, those who identify with the Islamic faith are finding their foothold. They used to hold prayer sessions in the basement of St. Henry’s Church on Avenue C until last year. As their attendance grew, they sought to create a mosque that accommodate the whole community.
They are now finalizing plans to renovate an old warehouse on East 24th Street off Avenue F and hope to be up and running by the spring of 2019. In the meantime, they are renting prayer space near Frank’s Theatres in South Cove Commons on Route 440 while others travel to Jersey City to pray.
“We’ve made wonderful, incredible friends throughout the town. Now we have a lot of different religions and churches that join in,” said Neil. “It is a very big acceptance of people of any financial, religious, ethnic backgrounds. It’s really wonderful.”
The soup kitchen operates at All Saints Catholic Academy on 13th Street between Broadway and Avenue C every Sunday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. To volunteer or find out how to get help, contact Blessed Miriam Teresa Parish at (201) 437-4090.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.