After the pandemic left him jobless, catering chef Barney Corrigan quickly recognized the effect Covid-19 was having in his community in Westville, New Jersey — so he transformed his home’s garage into a food pantry.
“People are being forced to choose between paying their bills or feeding their kids. No one should have to make that decision. It’s sickening,” the 42-year-old said.
Corrigan says he’s lucky to have a strong support system at home and that his wife’s job has remained secure, keeping the family afloat. However, as unemployment numbers continued to skyrocket, Corrigan decided he could not just sit back knowing that so many would be struggling with food insecurity. New Jersey, which saw some of the earliest tragedies from the virus, has reported nearly 200,000 total confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Corrigan started in April by building a small cabinet, filling it with dried goods and leaving it on his front lawn for people who needed help but were too embarrassed to ask for it.
“When I heard car doors outside my house at three in the morning, that made me smile,” he said.
After asking a few close friends for donations, it didn’t take long for word to spread on social media. Within weeks, he had way too much food to fit in his “Little Pantry,” so he moved his operation into the garage and opened it up to the public every other Saturday. At the beginning of April, Corrigan was providing about eight families with weekly groceries. Five months and hundreds of donations later, Barney’s Place Food Pantry is now serving more than 60 people biweekly.
Corrigan says what makes his pantry special is that it’s set up like a convenience store, so people can come and pick up whatever they need — and whatever they want. Thanks to the generosity of his community and strangers on the internet, who donate nonperishable items or money, he stocks fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, butter and eggs.
“At most food pantries, you drive up, open your trunk, and they put a box of food in your car,” Corrigan said.
Since he receives about 20 food deliveries per day from donors all over the country who have heard about the pantry on social media, Corrigan says there are no item limits. “I’m always telling people to take more. I have four kids, so I know how much food families really need,” he said, adding that new people reach out to him daily to arrange donations. “It’s a good problem to have. People really want to help each other right now.”
Barney’s Place has become more than just a cost-free grocery store to its visitors.
“The folks that are coming here have become like family now,” he said of his “regulars,” who come to his home for food and household items and stay for companionship. Most of his visitors are neighbors and community members who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but Corrigan says there are new faces in his garage every other Saturday.
“Just talking with him was sort of like therapy,” said Jim Gavi, one of Corrigan’s regulars who’s been struggling to find work since the pandemic started. “When someone is more concerned about the well-being of others, it sheds that light needed on the darker days of those in need and gives them hope that everything will truly be all right, and we will all get through this difficult time.”
Corrigan has now formed a non-profit and hopes to expand his food pantry operations into a warehouse, so he can serve people on a larger scale. “I would love to make this a full-time thing,” he said. “I love to cook so the goal is to eventually serve hot meals in addition to pantry items to anyone in need.”