These men and women with developmental disabilities continue to volunteer in the community in hopes of becoming more accepted.
By MATTHEW SHINKLE
While members have come and gone over the years, Team Tomatoes is continuing to grow its presence within the community.
Bancroft job coach Matthew Roach has been working with the group for five years, helping teach the men and women in the group with autism and similar intellectual or developmental disabilities job skills. By being a part of Team Tomatoes, which the original members of the group helped coin in its first year five years ago, they are able to get out of their group homes during the day and out into the community to complete volunteer projects and become a bigger part of society.
Thanks to a relationship that is now nearly a decade long, Team Tomatoes has been volunteering at the Cherry Hill Food Pantry by stocking shelves or loading clients’ cars with food.
After months of hard work at Maggie’s Farm in Voorhees, Team Tomatoes harvested the fresh vegetables it grew this summer on the morning of Aug. 27, alongside members of the Cherry Hill Food Pantry’s board of directors. The cucumbers, eggplants and multiple types of peppers they collected were donated to the food pantry and available for clients the very next day.
Maintaining the farm is just one of the many things the group accomplishes throughout the year. According to Roach, they are extremely active in the community and volunteer wherever they are able to do work — such as with Whole Foods putting up Christmas trees or helping landscape outside a local garden center.
Ultimately, the work Team Tomatoes does is to help build and establish the men and women with job skills so they can go out into the workforce and make money, such as their work with the food pantry.
“I want these guys all to be working,” said Roach. “They work really hard for me, they deserve to be out in the community working, and so I think the more exposure we get, the better chance they have of getting that goal. They’re out there in the community trying to do the work and I want them to get paid for it.”
The group of seven men and women with disabilities from Team Tomatoes has continued to run with the idea of volunteering with the Cherry Hill Food Pantry each and every week, striving to always be of service to others who need help.
“This is important to know about not only our population, but specifically our team — they really like to help. They like to be part of the community and they like also being a help to the people around them,” said Roach. “So when they found this opportunity … with the Cherry Hill Food Bank, they jumped at it and grabbed hold. They do not want to miss the Thursday food bank because they love the guys, they love being out in the community, they love helping the customers. It’s been a great gig for them.”
According to Roach, the group requires very little assistance from him in their everyday lives or when completing a task. The biggest requirement is simply communicating the task at hand so they understand.
The group varies between low verbal skills, high verbal skills and trouble with motor skills at first; however, once the job is in their head and ready to be tackled, Roach says they go at it and don’t stop.
“They’re a lot better employees than most people you find coming out of a high school,” said Roach. “These guys come to work, they’re happy to work.”
Janet Giordano, executive director for the Cherry Hill Food Pantry, was on-site to help with the harvest alongside Team Tomatoes to show support for Bancroft and the job the men and women have done over the years with the pantry.
“You need people to do that, it’s a much needed service,” said Giordano. “They’re really, really helping us and they’re delightful to have around. They’re so happy to be there. They’re so dedicated. It’s amazing since they’re special needs people themselves, how wonderful and happy they make everyone.”
The pantry helps more than 400 families each month, according to Giordano. Each client receives a certain amount of food in pounds per month depending how much food the pantry has in stock, which often fluctuates due to holidays and heavy or low donation periods of the summer.
Currently, the pantry does not have any backing from Voorhees, so it is not able to accept clients from the area. However, the pantry is looking to help the area and is hoping to find multiple backers, typically churches, so they can accept clients from Voorhees.
“Churches are our backing. They do the food drives for us and donate,” said Giordano. “We have to have a backing from an area to take that area on. Because Voorhees is so large, it would have to be more than one. We have many religious congregations from Cherry Hill that back us; we would need at least three from Voorhees because the area is so big.”
To make a donation or help in numerous other ways, visit www.cherryhillfoodpantry.com, or call (856) 428–0300.