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Taking a Moment: How a sock donation rolled up into an experience with Somerset County’s working poor and homeless

February 4, 2020

SOMERVILLE, NJ – FEBRUARY 2020 – It was right around noon on Friday, Jan. 17, and the three ladies in the kitchen worked as quickly as they could to prepare before clients would begin filing through the rear doors of Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Somerville, looking for a hot meal.

The Samaritan Homeless Interim Program, also known as SHIP, has been serving meals to anyone who needs one since 1984. It has served about 3 million of those meals to more than 100,000 people since then. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and the third Tuesday of each month, those meals are served at the church, through the efforts of dedicated volunteers from this and other parishes.

On this Friday, the three volunteers in the kitchen would get some unexpected help. An unfamiliar face peeked through the narrow opening in the partition between the kitchen and the dining area, and introduced herself – Naomi Savitz, a manager of business development at Atlantic Health System.

She, and three of her colleagues, Linda Carifi, director of business development, Kristen Fallan, manager of business development and Will Neate, vice president, of physician enterprise strategy and market leader for Atlantic Health’s southern region, had come to make a donation of socks. 

Atlantic Health System, a leading provider of health care in New Jersey, had recently sent a pair of Bombas socks to physicians in the region to celebrate “pairing” with Atlantic Health. For every pair purchased, Bombas donates a pair to a charitable cause. Atlantic Health System chose SHIP, and delivered the socks themselves.

“But we’re also here to help out in any way you need,” Savitz explained to the volunteers. “Do you need some help?”

Volunteer Dyanne Diaz-Piedra, who looked back from a cutting board and a pack of still-unsliced ciabatta sandwich rolls, replied with a smile and a bit of relief. “We probably need a little help, yeah.”

Within minutes, the squad from Atlantic Health System had snapped on vinyl gloves and began slicing bread, fixing bowls of cold cuts and stirring ground beef alongside the church volunteers. As they finished setting out the meals, the first group of clients walked through the doors.

The Atlantic Health team members lined up behind the serving table as Dyanne watched the last of the clients sit down, waiting to be served, and then led the group in a short prayer, closing with: “And thank you for the extra guests we have today, who you sent at the right time.”

With that, numbers were called out, clients lined up, and the crew from Atlantic Health began serving meals. When they were done, they began rounding the dining tables, handing out pairs of socks. The group that came on Friday was smaller than usual, so everyone got seconds of meals and socks – all of which was greatly appreciated.

“It’s important as health care providers to understand the communities we are serving, and as our presence grows in Somerset County and the surrounding area, opportunities like this give us a perspective beyond blanket terms like ‘underserved,’” said Neate.

The group of clients that day reflected the population served by SHIP – homeless, near homeless, working poor, or otherwise in need, from a variety of ages and backgrounds. Some carried bags with belongings, others appeared to have stopped in for a bite before heading back to work.“

Rather than have the socks shipped directly, we looked at the donation as a chance to connect directly with the people they were going to, even if just for a moment. We’re grateful to SHIP for letting us come, and help participate,” Carifi said.

Along with the soup kitchen at St. John’s, SHIP also provides meals every Tuesday and Thursday at the United Reformed Church in Somerville, as well as via a mobile soup kitchen on weekdays throughout the county. They also provide meals on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to the soup kitchen program (dubbed the Galley), SHIP also provides temporary housing to those who need it.

“Socks are the most requested item among those in need,” said SHIP’s founder and executive director, Thomas O’Leary. “Without people like you (Atlantic Health System), people like us could not do what we do for the needy.”