PICTURE THE HUB: GIVING TIME
david and roei mendez
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
I'm Roei Mendez (right) and I'm David Mendez (left).
Roei: We're cofounders of Connex4NPO. Okay, so Connex4NPO was actually founded in 2020 in April. However, my husband and I have been doing this since 2001 independently. Most folks think of us as like a mini food bank, because we service approximately, 28 groups, right now food pantries or other food giving organizations such as shelters. We have pantries, churches, lodges, like Elk Lodge, for instance, or community centers or senior homes. So for the most part, you'll see us doing that but there are other things that Connex4NPO does, which is also a resource for health. We tried to find assistance for individuals with their medical, their prescription and you know, people also with babies or our adults needing adult diapers, babies needing diapers, formulas, things of that nature.
I was drawn to volunteer this way because it just came naturally, because I came from, you know, being very poor and from not having. So when we came here and seeing the abundance of food and the availability of it, and the creativity that my husband and I had put together, reaching out to donors and being able to stretch out the donations, the dollars that we get to sometimes 25 times the amount. It had given us so much inspiration that we can do this for not just for our family or neighbors but for everyone who really are truly in need.
David: Well it's important seeing the smile on people's faces. To see how much the some of them they appreciate what we are doing.
Roei: Yes when we're doing that preparation, I think is where it kind of gets exciting because as we're bringing out the breads, the fruit and you see people lining up regardless of what the the weather conditions are. You'll see moms with their strollers and you'll see some seniors you know, some people took the bus and taken X number of minutes or sometimes near an hour coming out and the smiles on their faces because we do our best to give them the complete package of fresh and also long shelf life foods.
David: We started because we, ourselves, we were facing food insecurity in the beginning. We had this opportunity and we decided to begin sharing with our neighbors and our friends.
Roei: Our parents, they didn't make much. And we were looking out for across the street neighbor and that's how we sort of got started with this in April. And we found that there was this gentleman who lived not too far from Trader Joe's. And he had some access to some of the stores and we call them up and we asked if we can have some donations and we thought, oh sure. And they said well, Do you guys mind being drivers? And right away we said yes. So we asked where should we take the food. He said, Oh, you pick it up and you take it you give it away. And that was kind of like the beginning of all of that. So exciting because right after that, and again, not by design and not by intention. Every single donor ended up being whole foods and organic. So from there we got Marvel. And then we got also Whole Foods store, Trader Joe's, Wegmans. And now we have the Lidl. We are also getting food from ShopRite, Stop and Shop, Target. It's everywhere.
David: We also had the opportunity to distribute already cooked meals. Which we mainly direct to homeless shelters. Some of the city or homes because some of them they can cook. So this is a huge, huge help for them.
Roei: Were we surprised about how much product comes out of food rescue? Oh, absolutely. We were astounded. Especially in the very beginning of the pandemic where I think my husband and I and only a few drivers were gung ho about going out there and delivering. We wrapped up in personal protective gear, like the CDC. But we went out there rescuing everything. We were getting close. Nobody wanted to pick up the amount of meats, the amount of fresh milk, cheese, fruits, vegetables. We got to a point co-working with many organization, the highest was 22,000 individuals in one month,. That is the most that we have done or reach with it, you know, it averages depending on a month 12,000 and you know, but we had reached at one point 22,000 which was amazing, but this is co with all the other 28 organizations.
We are encouraging a lot of young folks to offer us some hours to do some tasks like stocking the shelves. We are also connecting with some schools -- like the Summit school, who have kids with disabilities who work small jobs that help prepare them for day to day, everyday kind of life-- to incorporate food pantry volunteering. I mean it's just amazing. When Lisa Bontemps of Park Side Community Church, were our pantry is now located, puts out a call for volunteers, we get a big response. Sometimes we have to say, we have enough folks volunteering today! And our board of directors are just so supportive.
It is a grinding type of service but we find a lot of pleasure doing it because you know that at the end of the day, I mean, again, you know, we go back to like our parents, our kids, I mean you have you kind of have to like put yourself in a position like when you see those smiles, you know the family when you know crying, happy, happy tears that I have food for the week. like we have one meal for the evening. We have supplies for X number of days. It's it's a big deal to be able to provide for baby formulas and products that otherwise people would spend hundreds of dollars and at this time, especially in this climate. It's so hard to get assistance from the government. Because not that there isn't enough, it's just there's so many people there's so many long waits. And we do not discriminate. In fact, underneath a logo we say welcome everyone in need and we do not require any form of identification.
David: We love to be in Westwood. I think we're so blessed. so blessed to be here. Our kids have kids grown up here. Went to school here. We always have many friends.
Roei: They welcome us, you know, wholeheartedly my husband and I. David was an assistant Cubmaster with Minnie Velasquez who now sits on our board. She is one of our directors. I sat in the PSO co president with Kelly O'melia who is also on our board. And and also in the middle school I sat as a treasurer and vice president.
Roei: I want to tell you. And it was one of my favorite stories. It's how we get creative. Because we get a lot of challenges especially in the beginning. We had a partner call and they had people all over of New Jersey and they had a client specifically in Atlantic City, which is pretty far from here. And that time, the food pantries were like we are out of food, long lines, what have you got, we have a client is elderly, etc. So we tell them we're gonna make phone calls, because that's usually what we do. And we call and see what we could do. And everyone told us, oh, you know, you have to wait in line. You have to do this. You have to do that. And there's one in particular that says, we have absolutely nothing. If somebody could give us food, we'll even deliver it. So I said to them, give me a moment. So I sat down, and I call them right back and I said, how about we drive halfway to Freehold and then we will bring a truckload of food, but we will have to ask you one favor, if you could deliver to one person for us. They were so happy. So because we feel there's their food pantry, and they delivered to our person. Everybody was happy. When somebody is in need you have to figure out ways. I love to do it.
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