PATERSON, N.J. — At Oasis, a non-profit located in Paterson, New Jersey, the mission is straightforward: A Haven for Women and Children.
But the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, and with the socially distanced daily food line now routinely stretching down the block and around the corner, Oasis has become a haven not just for the poor and underprivileged, but for everyone.
Just more than a quarter of the residents in Paterson — New Jersey’s third largest city — live at or below the poverty level.
About two-thirds of the population live at or near the liquid asset poverty level — in other words, they don’t have sufficient cash on hand, or savings to weather the storm brought about by the pandemic.
Rosario Rios is a single mother who was recently laid off from her school janitorial job.
Through a translator, Rios told us when she recently went to the unemployment office, she bumped into a friend who told her Oasis was giving out meals and bags of food. Rios said she'd exhausted her savings.
Rios was not the typical Oasis client prior to the pandemic, but she's become one now.
In fact, long time Oasis Clients said they’ve witnessed the transformation and the steady stream of new faces.
The Oasis dining room is now a makeshift food warehouse.
Before thepandemic, the staff served about 150 meals a day to its clienetl of women anc children.
But these days, the staff is showing up long before dawn to being cooking food, and serving up 1,500 meals a day to anyone who shows up.
That a 1,000% increase in meals served — and for now, Oasis said they'll continue to meet that demand.
"What you're dealing with is probably a population that has been hit the hardest because of a lot of the shutdowns," said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.
"So you had people working in the food industry, working at restaurants. People who were working in the barber shops, hair salons. People who are considered to be non-essential workers. But essentially, what you've done is driving them deeper and deeper into poverty because they only have so much in savings. And it creates a myriad of problems for them," Sayegh said.
Oasis Director of Development Laetitia Cairoli said she believes the coronavirus pandemic inflicted what she fears is lasting damage to an already economically challenged community.
"It is in fact a hunger crisis at this time," she said.
Oasis’ staff was essentially forced to completely change the way they serve the community.
And keep in mind, this non-profit relies primarily on donations for its food supplies.
"The day that Paterson School district shut down — March 16 — the day after, we completely pivoted," said Cairoli. "We completely changed out operation. We became a food distribution center. We imagine that from memorial day until at least September, at the very least, we will be providing food and hot meals at a very elevated level."
"It's a welcomed safety net for struggling parents like Rios.
"She is very grateful to Oasis, that they're offering all this help to so many people."