Paterson Pantry Chief Takes State Government Food Security Post

Source: North Paterson Press

Passaic County’s largest food pantry underwent dramatic changes in the five years that Mark Dinglasan was in charge, doubling its budget and nearly doubling its full-time employees.

Under Dinglasan, CUMAC stopped handing out prepacked bags of food and allowed clients to choose which items they wanted, just as if they were shopping at a supermarket. CUMAC also set up a benefit enrollment center at its Ellison Street complex, which helps pantry clients sign up for other services, such as health insurance, utility bill assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps.

Now Dinglasan is getting ready to leave CUMAC to take a newly created job in state government, director of the Office of the Food Security Advocate.

“I am confident that under Mark’s leadership, we will make great strides in our ongoing commitment to end food insecurity by strengthening food assistance and providing support to communities across the state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in announcing Dinglasan’s appointment.

Dinglasan said that in his new job he would like to replicate some of the changes he has made at CUMAC at other food distribution programs in the state, and that he would like to make New Jersey’s food distribution program a model for other places in the country.

“Community building always requires risks,” Dinglasan said of his decision to accept the state appointment. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I passed up this opportunity and didn’t try.”

Before he came to CUMAC in 2017, Dinglasan worked as an advocate for children in foster care in Chicago, and before that he was a lay missionary who helped build homes in the poorest parts of the Philippines.

As impoverished families struggle with inflation, CUMAC has seen its caseload soar this year by more than 50%, Purdy said. CUMAC, originally an acronym for Center of United Methodist Aid for the Community, now distributes food to 3,200 families per month.

People come to CUMAC from 49 municipalities in seven counties, with regular clients from as far west as Warren County and as far east as Hudson County, Purdy said.

CUMAC’s roots go back to the 1970s, when Paterson schoolteacher Hugh Dunlap noticed that his students weren’t getting proper nutrition. He started collecting food donations from his Dumont church congregation and set up a closet-sized food pantry in Paterson.

CUMAC was incorporated in 1985. Now CUMAC’s leader is heading to Trenton, with the mission of developing new policy initiatives to combat hunger and facilitate greater access to food relief programs.

Dinglasan said his last day at CUMAC will be Sept. 16. The nonprofit group’s board likely will be conducting a national search for his successor, said Laura Purdy, CUMAC’s director of operations. But “I don’t consider it losing an E.D. [executive director],” she added. “I think we’re gaining a friend in Trenton.”

Cases of Legionnaires’ Disease in Hamilton Township
Featured Video: Eye Health Awareness