Karen Demarco

Category: Founders/Innovators
Nominator: Nicole DeMarco

What was their service?

Karen DeMarco has helped to feed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of food insecure New Jersey residents. She founded the nonprofit group The Food Brigade Inc., which in a 5-month period distributed over 1,000,000 pounds of food, as well as prepackaged meals to local residents in need. Every week, she is responsible for distributing between 35-40 tons of food for people in need. In addition to directly servicing the hungry through her nonprofit’s operations, she has organized an ever-expanding network of other partner organizations which distribute food, that she provides through The Food Brigade, to their own end recipients.

What motivated them to serve/volunteer? 

In August 2017, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. That October, she underwent a double mastectomy. While she was recuperating, a neighbor assisted Karen and her family by starting a “meal train”, with volunteers bringing dinner to Karen’s family nightly. Wanting to “pay it forward”, in November 2017 Karen formed the Dumont Meal Brigade, to do the same for others in need. Once COVID-19 hit, Karen ramped up her charitable efforts, personally cooking 1,800 meals in her kitchen for those suffering financially. She has voluntarily refrained from working for months, devoting herself full-time to the service of people in need.

What did they achieve/how did they make a difference? 

Karen has been bettering the lives of New Jersey residents for years, most recently with her hunger relief charity The Food Brigade. From its incorporation on 10/1/20 through 2/25/21, The Food Brigade distributed over one million pounds of food to people in need. Every week, she helps feed thousands of food insecure New Jersey residents. Beginning on her own with a distribution of 75 food boxes, Karen’s nonprofit now distributes weekly more than 20 times the amount of that initial food distribution – approximately 1,600 boxes of food per week. In addition to directly feeding needy families and individuals, Karen has also used The Food Brigade to build up a network of distribution partners, who in turn distribute The Food Brigade’s food boxes to recipients in their own geographic areas. Currently, The Food Brigade operates a weekly food box distribution program on Wednesdays and Thursdays, where families, individuals, and network partners pick up food via “drive-through” operations in Dumont and Teaneck. The Food Brigade also now distributes prepackaged meals weekly, giving out 800 restaurant-prepared meals on Tuesday afternoons from its Dumont location. For those in need of food who don’t have a car to come and pick up, Karen’s organization provides a home delivery service using volunteer drivers. Karen plans to continue to expand her efforts across the State. It is hard to imagine that any one individual has done more for the hungry in New Jersey, or has helped feed more residents on such a massive scale, than Karen DeMarco.