When Mark Dinglasan (MBA ’12) was made executive director in 2017 of CUMAC, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding people and changing lives in Paterson, N.J., he felt ready for the big job ahead. Paterson is the historical city built by Alexander Hamilton to make the fledgling United States independent of European industry. It is the city where the first submarines in America were built and tested, Colt pistols were first manufactured and some of the first locomotives were built. However, Paterson has struggled in recent years, with changing industries and corruption leading to poor infrastructure, a lack of jobs, an opioid epidemic, food insecurity, poverty and much more.
“Sixteen percent of children face poverty in New Jersey, and 37 percent of residents in Paterson reported running out of food in 2018,” Dinglasan says. To help break generational cycles of poverty, Dinglasan oversees CUMAC, one of the largest antihunger organizations in New Jersey. CUMAC rescues more than 19,000 pounds of food a week, provides groceries to 5,000 people a month and processes more than 1.9 million pounds of food a year. However, when Dinglasan took over CUMAC, he focused on both food operations as well as the job-readiness, housing, and health and nutrition education operations. “Ending hunger has nothing to do with giving people food,” he says.
“My opinion is that hunger and, on a larger scale, poverty in the United States is not about a lack of food,” Dinglasan asserts. “Rather, the larger picture is that people are not able to access the resources they need to compete effectively for better opportunities. If you’re hungry, you can’t concentrate on school or work. If you’re homeless or close to it, where would you store your food? If you have no access to a computer, how would you apply for jobs? We have to challenge ourselves to create more just systems that empower people to compete for a better life.”
Informed by his work in diversity and juvenile justice in Chicago, Dinglasan’s vision is to turn CUMAC into a one-stop access point for supportive services that is embedded in the community. To do this, he and his team launched the Beyond Hunger Initiative in January 2019, an effort that involves improving and growing programming, physical improvements to the CUMAC facility, and much more. Not only will a family be able to come to CUMAC for healthy, nutritious groceries, but also they will be able to come for health screenings, nutrition education, career mapping, financial literacy, job-readiness training and other services.
Dinglasan believes that big challenges need to begin with big, crazy dreams. “Those taking up the fight to end hunger must never be satisfied with simply giving out food,” he says. “The vision, the big, crazy dream, is to imagine the same people you’re serving one day saying, ‘No, thanks. I know I can get food from you this month, but right now, I got this,’ and holding onto that vision. We’re working toward breaking the cycle that perpetuates hunger and poverty.”