Star Fish Food Pantry

Star Fish, Inc. is a tax exempt, 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in Plainfield, NJ 
Your donations are tax deductible as permitted by the IRS Code.

Our Beginnings

 Through the efforts of the Association of Religious Organizations and the Plainfield Volunteer Center, Star Fish, Inc. came into official existence on the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 26, 1971.

     Organized by Mary Nischwitz, Mrs. Peter Webb, and Eileen Cunniff, the core of volunteers included representatives of many area churches. 

Nearly 250 people volunteered in those early days of Star Fish, coming from all walks of life and all faiths. There were many acts of kindness taking place, even before the organization became "official" on November 26, 1971.      

At an early organizational meeting, held at Temple Beth-El in Plainfield, the wide-ranging scope of the group's efforts was on display in the anecdotes of service already being performed. A woman recuperating from a broken hip couldn't get to the market for food or clean her apartment. A brother who normally helped was not available, so Star Fish stepped in. A volunteer got the shopping list and some money from Star Fish and did the shopping, bringing the recuperating woman a week's worth of food.      

Another resident had a heart condition and had been hospitalized. When she returned home to her apartment, she needed clean clothes but was afraid to carry the heavy basket down to the basement laundry room and back up again. A Star Fish volunteer picked up the clothes, did the washing and drying, and brought them back again, all in a day's work.      

"Star Fish is essentially a person-to-person operation..." said Mrs. Peter Webb back in 1971. "Its volunteers just stand ready to help out families or people in emergencies which are not always financial ones," said Mary Nischwitz.      

A key need at the time and an early purpose of Star Fish was transportation. "We particularly need those who are willing to provide transportation to the Plainfield area," said the Rev. Herbert Saunders, president of ARO. He noted that, after a slow start, the program is underway with a tremendous spirit of neighborliness.      

In its early days, Star Fish volunteers were given buttons to wear, showing that they were part of this new organization. The buttons displayed the symbol above, depicting the Star of David and the Christian fish, working together to help others. Start-up was difficult, but once people learned how easy it was to assist and how meaningful the assistance was to those in need, the act of helping others became a reward that was eagerly anticipated.      

Eileen Cunniff was one of the early founding members and was a leader of St. Mary Catholic Church's support for Star Fish. She worked closely with Mary Nischwitz in establishing the food pantry operation that continues today. Food was collected at church every Sunday for distribution. But back then, the food pantries were located in Eileen's basement for the west half of town, and in the United Methodist Church basement for the other half of town and handled by Mary. Parishioners helped bring those bags and boxes of collected food from St. Mary's to the Cunniff basement each week. It was such a part of the Cunniff family life that the children thought everyone's basements had shelves of food for other people!   

There were volunteers who took phone calls and acted as an answering service, accumulating the requests and doling them out to various volunteers. Contact information for people who needed food went to Eileen and to Mary, who used their network of friends and volunteers to help make deliveries to the families in need. One of our volunteers recalls hearing something like this from Eileen Cunniff - "Going to work in the West End tonight? Can you drop off some groceries to a mom for her and her children on your way?" By one means or another, the people received the food they needed.      

Over the years, the food side of the operation became more dominant than transportation. Food services grew to the point where a new location was needed to accommodate the supplies. The basement operations were combined into one food pantry at the church, where it remains today. And, over time, the task of managing the incoming calls for help fell to local service agencies, such as the Red Cross, the Welfare Office (now Union County Social Services), and Plainfield Action Services. Employees at these agencies screen the requests, verifying need, and helping avoid duplication of service. Calls are also received from the Union County Psychiatric Clinic, local day care operations, and other agencies on a less frequent basis.      

Star Fish operates three mornings a week, with volunteers taking the list of clients in need from the staff at the partner agencies. The volunteers then bundle a set amount of food based on the size of the family and load it into shopping bags. Other volunteers arrive to cart the food out of the building, load it into their cars, and deliver it to the waiting partner agency, where the clients come to pick it up. No longer delivering from pantry to client, the system in use today is more of a partnership between clients and Star Fish. Our part is to provide some food to help get through a food emergency; the clients' part is to make the effort to go and get the food at the agency location.        

Visit our Shopping List page to see the type of items we need every week. See the Contact Us page to offer your help, to make a financial contribution, or to learn more.