EWING — It all began with a text message.

That text came to Patrick Jones, a teacher at Fisher Middle School in Ewing, in the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic and full-time virtual learning. A coworker of Jones' said a student's mother had expressed it was impossible for her child to complete online assignments on an empty stomach.

So Jones, his mother Debbie, who is a member of the township Board of Education, fellow board member Deb Delutis, and her friend Roomana Khan put their heads together to create Ewing Helping Hands, which now delivers food to more than 40 families in town every week.

Delutis said the initial delivery consisted of seven bags of food she organized from a shopping spree she called "pandemic panic," given to that first family that indicated they needed help.

With a Facebook page established by late April, the group was able to coordinate its efforts to the point where about 85 children in the Ewing public school system are being fed properly on a weekly basis. The page maintains a list of the most-needed items, week to week.

As some families' needs are met, they may drop off Ewing Helping Hands' list and ask that their allotment be given to another family, Delutis said. Some have even donated food back, and sometimes food items show up anonymously on the co-founders' doorsteps.

"The community has been so, so generous and really, really supportive to all of their neighbors during this time," Delutis said.

But it's not just families helping families. Delutis said the list of organizations lending a hand to Ewing Helping Hands through their donations is already long, and growing:

  • Hopewell Mobile Food Pantry
  • Howell Living History Farm
  • Trenton Elks Lodge 105
  • Ewing Knights of Columbus
  • Women Who Move Mercer
  • Debbie Marks Lake Foundation
  • Coryell Tree Service
  • Mercer Street Friends
  • West Trenton 7-Eleven
  • Back in Action Chiropractic
  • Ewing Teachers Education Association
  • Preferred Care at Mercer
  • Cedar Gardens of Hamilton
  • Pennington Mayor Joseph Lawver

A typical delivery, according to Delutis, amounts to about a week's worth of groceries, including a box of produce, a box of pantry items, eggs, and gift cards either to grocery stores or locally-based vendors like Halo Farm.

Ewing Helping Hands has not turned a single family away due to lack of supply, and the donation process has moved the founders to tears on occasion.

"All of us have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our neighbors in this town," Delutis said. "I think so many families have just even incorporated it into their own grocery shopping."

The group does not plan to cease operation when COVID-19 is controlled, and in fact, is planning a "fill the backpack" drive thanks to toy and book donations they have received in addition to food.

"In all of our hearts, how could we ever just stop?" Delutis said.

A GoFundMe for the school supply drive can be found on the Facebook page, and for more information, email ewinghelpinghands@gmail.com.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.