RIDGEWOOD, N.J. – Two meals in hand, Pat Kehrberger of Waldwick rings the bell at Catherine’s house in Allendale.
“She’s one of my favorites,” says Kehrberger, a retired environmental engineer and volunteer for the Ridgewood-based Community Meals, Inc.
“Come in!” chirps Catherine, ready and waiting at her kitchen table around noontime.
The two catch up for a few minutes. Catherine asks that the meals be left next to the sink.
Kehrberger is one of a small army of volunteers who assemble, package, and label hundreds of meals at Christ Church in Ridgewood every weekday. Each meal is specifically prepared. Some people don’t like fish, for instance, or lettuce.
The volunteers then load the meals, which are cooked at nearby Valley Hospital, into coolers and fan out to drive them to residents in seven nearby towns.
Each household gets two meals for the day — one hot, one cold.
“We service anyone who is unable to shop or cook for themselves due to age or disability,” said Rebecca Conboy, executive director of Community Meals, Inc.
For the past 45 years, the organization has been delivering meals to people whose towns are not served by any other mobile meal program — Allendale, Glen Rock, Ho-Ho-Kus, Midland Park, Ridgewood, Waldwick, and part of Saddle River.
Community Meals is not a charity. Most of its clients pay $4.90 per hot meal and $4.50 per cold meal.
“But we don’t turn away anyone who can’t pay,” Conboy said. “We have 100 clients now and roughly a third are unable to pay.”
That’s possible for a number of reasons. First is the low rate Valley charges for the food it prepares.
Second, the Community Meals board applies for grant money and stages numerous fundraisers throughout the year, Conboy explained. The money it raises subsidizes meals for clients who can’t pay.
Third, the only labor costs involved are the part-time salaries of Conboy and an assistant director.
“We have 125 loyal, dedicated volunteers,” said Kim Mount, president of the board of directors.
Daily, a designated leader is responsible for ensuring that nine volunteers are present. The leader finds substitutes if someone is sick or on vacation.
Last year, Community Meals, Inc. served up 24,282 meals for 194 clients.
The volunteers say they become a kind of family among themselves.
“I just try to keep useful,” Kehrberger said. “That’s my goal in life. Not everybody can drive. Not everybody has a chunk of time in the middle of the day. It’s not rocket science, but it is helping out.”