It had been raining for hours by the time the meal delivery team approached the Capri Inn. Roads were closed across Hackensack, including the aptly named River Street.
Now the two would-be meal deliverers sat in a low-slung Prius, and beheld a body of water that stretched between them and the entrance to the motel’s parking lot. It appeared to be roughly the size of Lake Michigan.
Looks pretty deep, the driver said.
Very deep, the passenger agreed.
On the other side of the water were more than 80 former residents of the county shelter who’d been moved to the Capri because of the pandemic.
In the trunk were their meals, contained in more than 25 red insulated shopping bags.
The delivery team looked at the lake. They looked at each other.
Finally, the passenger said, “Let’s try it.’’
And because the passenger was Beth Falker, the driver floored it.
Beth Falker started volunteering at Family Promise without even knowing it was Family Promise.
For years she’d joined fellow parishioners from St. Peter’s Catholic Church in River Edge in preparing the nightly meal served in Hackensack under the auspices of the Interreligious Fellowship for the Homeless. Around 2010 the IRF became Family Promise, a change to which Beth was oblivious.
She just knew there were hungry people, and that it was her calling, about six times a year, to help feed them at something called the Walk-In Dinner.
This changed for her one night in April 2020, a month after COVID shut everything down and emptied the county shelter. St. Peter’s had been scheduled to provide dinner, but the food Beth and her fellow parishioners had planned to serve was not on the shelves. And the generally elderly volunteers were leery about going out in public.
So Beth discovered Chicken Galore in Fair Lawn and personally brought the many pans of fried chicken and side dishes to the shelter on South River Street. She handed it off to “a grey-haired guy’’ who seemed to be in charge, and split.
A few months later, when she repeated this process, she noticed that the grey-haired guy had a crew packing the food in takeout containers and bagging it. “I could do that,’’ she thought, and reached out to Family Promise Director of Volunteers, Margo Heller.
This elicited an email from the grey-haired guy himself, whose name turned out to be Paul Shackford, who happened to also be the Board President of Family Promise of Bergen County. Come in Friday, he wrote.
On her first shift she packaged food that would be delivered to the motels to which the shelter’s residents had been transferred, or handed out to anyone who came to the shelter’s loading dock.
The next week, Shackford asked Beth if she wanted to be on a team to drive meals to the motels. “Boy,’’ she told her husband that night, “you move up pretty fast in this organization!’’
Soon, another promotion: Shackford asked if she’d like to become a part-time team leader. “Too bad this isn’t a paying job,’’ Beth told her husband.
Beth’s final ascension in the WID organizational hierarchy came at the beginning of 2022, when she retired after 29 years as a school social worker in Rutherford (where she also lives and she and Steven raised their son Brian).
Shackford sidled over during a shift and casually mentioned, “So you’re retiring?’’ When she said yes, he asked, “Looking for work?’’
He had just the job for her, one he’d been doing for over two years: making the weekly volunteer schedule.
Schedule-making is a known cause of insanity, but Beth says it’s no great sweat, as long as she keeps track of who wants to work when (and, sometimes, with whom).
Her biggest problem isn’t too few volunteers to fill the roughly 50 slots a week, but too many volunteers, many of whom want to work more than once a week. If, when she emails out the schedule to the pool of volunteers, there are unfilled slots (marked in red), “people always come through,’’ she says. To her relief and gratitude, “they have never let me down.’’
The gray-haired guy himself, Paul Shackford, is amazed at how valuable Beth is. “No one volunteer leader is indispensable in the WID program,” he said, “but Beth comes close. She’s earned everyone’s respect with her command of detail, her sense of humor, her pragmatism, and her willingness to do any task — no matter how trivial.”
As for that flood outside the Capri several years ago, the car with the meals made it through – just like Beth said it would.