NEWARK, NJ – Maria Torres, the pantry manager of the United Community Corporation’s Champion House, is recognized for her determination to serve Newark residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Torres will join a group of individuals across the state on May 7th to be recognized by the Russell Berrie Foundation for their efforts in selflessly serving their respective communities over the past year. As part of her recognition, the pantry manager receives $ 25,000.

“I can’t believe I received this award. I’m still amazed, ”Torres told TAPinto Newark. “I didn’t expect anything. I couldn’t do this without my co-workers. It is you who keep us going. I am so grateful for your hard work. We are working to give back to our community. “

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The pantry manager, like so many others over the past year, faced a number of challenges caused by the pandemic. Torres was diagnosed with lupus early in the pandemic and was still stepping forward to feed and comfort Newark residents.

As lockdowns and unemployment led to a huge spike in food insecurity, the Torres-led pantry managed to serve 150,000 people in 2020. The result was an increase of more than 1,000% compared to previous years.

Determined to support the community, she and the pantry staff held daily distributions, attended mass distribution events, worked through UCC’s 40+ partners, and personally distributed food to those unable to leave their homes.

Currently, the UCC home operates the only pantry in Newark supplying families 14 days worth of groceries quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure and / or infection. This service, which uses contactless delivery, has been used by the City Department of Health, Public School District, and Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services.

“It’s always great when you have someone who has a level of commitment and success in your company,” said Craig Mainor, executive director of UCC, to TAPinto Newark. “It’s best if you share this person with the community and allow the community to see them at their best, but it’s great when the community and agency join in and bring this person – this soldier against poverty – one Award and a special can give recognition. It lifts someone up. I am in awe of Mary’s strength and ability. “

Torres joined the UCC team in 2013 and began volunteering at the agency’s Fulton Street Emergency Shelter. He was hired later that year. Before working in the Newark building of the UCC, she gained early experience in running a pantry in the animal shelter, which led through various departments.

Given the success of the program, UCC recently announced that a second pantry is expected to arrive on Ann Street in Newark’s East Ward in March.

The Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award has honored New Jersey residents for the past 25 years whose service to others and heroism have made a significant impact on the lives of others.

This year there will be one grand prize of $ 50,000, four prizes of $ 25,000, and 14 prizes of $ 7,500. The award has now grossed $ 3.75 million, each with an inspiring story about how they made a difference.

Ramapo College, New Jersey, administers the award program and the award ceremony on behalf of the Russell Berrie Foundation. To learn more about each of the 2021 award winners and to register for the virtual celebration, visit the link here.

This year’s awardees included other Newark residents. The following Newarkers recognized that year were:

  • Kim Gaddy – Gaddy has been on the frontline for environmental justice in New Jersey’s color communities for more than 20 years, starting in her own neighborhood, South Ward, where she raised three children who suffered from chronic asthma. After a decade of tenacious advocacy from Gaddy and other environmental leaders, New Jersey now has the toughest environmental justice legislation in the nation. In recognition of her staunch leadership, she received an award of $ 25,000.

  • Amanda Ebokosia – Ebokosia is the founder of the Gem Project, which educates young people about critical issues affecting their communities. Through activism and service learning, young people strengthen their leadership skills and the organization of communities. She is the recipient of $ 7,500.

  • Wilhelmina Holder – Holder is the President of the Newark Secondary Parents Council. Decades after having children in the public education system, she continues to advocate justice and opportunity for young people at Newark Public Schools. She is the recipient of $ 7,500.