Guess Who Bought Us a Cargo Van?

"Mrs. Fortunato?"..."Yes"..."This is Columbia Bank calling to let you know that the South Jersey Dream Center's grant request for $25,554 to purchase a cargo van has been approved"...[heart pounding, tears welling, voice quivering] "Praise God!!! Thank you, thank you, oh my, thank you!!  We can't thank you enough!"...[tears flowing, speechless]...  

Too much drama for ya?  Maybe so, but for us, we will remember that phone call from this past February like it was yesterday.  What a giant leap forward this overwhelming act of kindness provided for us!  But wait, let's take a quick look back at how our partnership with Columbia Bank began and the journey that led us to this very special occasion.

We first met Robert Cleveland, the Manager of the West Deptford branch, in the fall of 2014.  We were going door to door to local businesses seeking sponsors for our Annual Dodge Hunger Dodgeball Tournament at the Riverwinds Community Center, and walked into the Columbia Bank on Grove Avenue.  Mr. Cleveland so kindly took the time to hear about our cause, and immediately took an interest, and began sharing with us different ways to get the word out about the Dream Center in the community.  As a past president of the Greater Woodbury Chamber of Commerce, and on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Gloucester County, he was a "wealth" of information.   

The following Spring, we called Mr. Cleveland for a recommendation for a presenter to lead a workshop for First Time Home Buyers at our monthly Food and Clothing Distribution at the National Park Fire Hall.  He put us in touch with John Gallo, a Columbia Bank Mortgage Account Executive in Voorhees, who joined us in July, 2015, along with a team of volunteers led by Mr. Cleveland.  They worked tirelessly unpacking boxes, loading thousands of pounds of food onto our tables, and assisting our guests.  

Two months later, we received a call from Mr. Cleveland who asked if Columbia Bank could purchase $500 in food from the local Sam's Club for our monthly distribution.  Our response, a resounding "Yes!".  They delivered a wonderful assortment of "family friendly" non-perishable food items a week later.  

In October, 2015, we applied for a grant from Columbia Bank, to purchase a much needed cargo van.  At the time, we were using a mini-van with all the passenger seats removed for picking up and delivering food, clothing, and transporting all our equipment to the fire hall.  Though sufficient for the early stages of the Dream Center, a "mini"-van was no longer "big" enough to keep up with our growing number of food and clothing partners, and the needs of the people we serve.  Case in point - that same month, we had the opportunity to receive several hundred bags of mixed potatoes and apples from Farmers Against Hunger, but were limited by what our vehicle could carry.  As a result we left behind dozens of bags, which was so us, each bag left behind had a family's "name" on it that would miss out on this blessing. 

At Christmastime, in lieu of Christmas gifts to their larger business customers, the Columbia Bank corporate office gave them each a list of five New Jersey charities, and asked them to select one, and the bank would make a $250 donation on their behalf.  We were so honored that they included the South Jersey Dream Center on this prestigious list, and which resulted in us receiving a $250 donation from an anonymous donor. 

This past February, we received "the phone call".  In March, we purchased a pre-owned 2016 Ram Promaster 1500 cargo van with very low mileage.  In early April, we proudly had our name and the Columbia Bank name imprinted on the van by Designer Wraps in Millville, as well as our motto, Where Hope Opens Doors.  

It was now time to get the van on the road for pickups and deliveries.  In this short time, it's traveled to PA for bread, to Camden for produce, and locally for Panera, Albert's Organics, to pick up the lost & found clothing items at a local school, and to haul equipment back and forth to the National Park Fire Hall.  And we're just getting started.  We've joined the "Retail Rescue" program at the Food Bank of South Jersey. Through this program, they connect us with south Jersey retailers that have food that would normally be discarded due to a shortage of organizations like ours willing to dispense the food to local families in need.  

This past Tuesday, with great joy and thanksgiving, we "presented" the van at our monthly Food and Clothing Distribution.  Once again, Mr. Cleveland and a wonderful team of Columbia Bank Executives and staff volunteered alongside us for a full day, working hard and touching lives in a very special way. Among the crew was Darrin Gould, Dominick Donato, Delores McGuire, Jim Szpara, Regional Vice President, Mark Schott, and Kimberly Nolan, the Financial Services Officer at the Woodbury branch, featured in the February issue of the South Jersey Biz magazine as one of the "2016 Women to Watch". 

We give all glory and honor to God for blessing us so abundantly through Columbia Bank, and for the many plans He has for how the cargo van will be used to make a positive impact on south Jersey.  When you see us drive by, please take note of the ID on the back, "SJDC-01".  Because of the magnitude of our vision, we believe that this is the first in the fleet of service vehicles in our future "Transportation Department".  Too over the top for ya?  Maybe so, but we are the South Jersey Dream Center...we're all about dreaming BIG and leading others to do the same.