One person, big difference: Alumna leads the fight against hunger

Joan McNerney Skudera ’96 launches grassroots effort to enact positive change

Joan McNerney Skudera ’96 and husband Matt, MBA ’99

“I grew up in a family of seven children in Hawthorne, New Jersey. My parents were an inspiration to me because, no matter what we had or did not have, they always donated food to the food pantry. About a year ago, I realized that my parents were much better in their commitment to feeding the hungry than I was.”

These were the opening lines to an email sent out by Joan McNerney Skudera ’96 on the night of Nov. 14, 2016. She sent the message to friends, family and acquaintances with a mission to secure 100 volunteers, or ambassadors against hunger, within 24 hours. The ambassadors were asked to donate pre-designated food items to Skudera’s Midland Park home on the first Wednesday of each month. She and her family members would then distribute the collected goods across four local food pantries.

Skudera met her goal, securing 100 do-gooders in 24 hours. Three weeks later, as she, husband Matt (MBA ’99) and the couple’s children collected and distributed the donated goods, “Ambassadors Against Hunger” was born.

Between December 2016 and September 2017, Ambassadors Against Hunger has grown to include more than 150 volunteers who have donated more than 3,200 food items. Those items are divided amongst The Midland Park Children’s Love Fund, Social Service Association of Ridgewood & Vicinity, Borough of Fair Lawn Food Pantry, and the food pantry of St. Anthony RC Church in Hawthorne.

“We’re just so impressed that people are so kind and generous; people are actually thanking me for letting them help,” Skudera says. Four ambassadors have even recently volunteered to be the respective liaisons to each food pantry, taking care of the drop-offs to each facility so the Skudera family doesn’t have to worry about such. 

Meanwhile, Skudera’s 14-year-old son has recruited his friends to join him in working curbside at the family’s home to gather donations from ambassadors. “They’re into a routine. Unless they have sports or some afterschool activity, they come and they enjoy helping out,” Skudera explains of the teen volunteers.

The alumna provides her ambassadors with a calendar for the whole year, designating a different food item to donate each month. August was peanut butter and jelly; September is rice and beans; October is macaroni and cheese.

“At first, we received a ‘thank you’ from each food pantry, and then after a few times of us delivering goods, it turned to, ‘Wait a minute. Who are you guys?’” Skudera says, laughing. “We’ve gotten letters from people who have benefitted from the program … they really, really do appreciate this.”

“Ambassadors Against Hunger has been so generous to us,” says Arlene De Pauw, who volunteers at the food pantry of St. Anthony RC Church. “Sometimes, certain items get low and the group’s donations just seem to pop in at the right time. We were basically out of jelly in August, and when they gave us a donation of peanut butter and jelly, it was a wonderful help. They’ve been a blessing to us.”

Inspired by what she has started, others have reached out to Skudera and asked if they could copy the program in their hometowns. Skudera has enthusiastically encouraged such each time. Whether each new group is using the same “Ambassadors Against Hunger” name, she isn’t sure.

The Skudera family hopes to have a total of 200 ambassadors on its roster by December. Though ambassadors are asked to drop items off at the Skudera house on the first Wednesday of each month, pickup can be arranged for those who need it. Additionally, those who wish to ship their donations can send them to the office of one of the ambassadors. “We did have someone in Hawaii once who wanted to help,” Skudera says, underscoring the need for a shipping option.

Anyone who is interested in becoming an ambassador or learning more about the program is encouraged to email Skudera at jmskud@verizon.net.

“This has been really great so far,” Skudera says of her philanthropic venture. “I think people get really busy and we forget about helping others … But family-wise, we get more from the program than we give.”

 

09/25/17