2012 Faith in Action Award Recipient
“My heart tells me what to do; my head tells me how to do it,” says Kathleen DiChiara, who describes herself as a pragmatic idealist. In 1975, Kathleen began an emergency food program out of the back of her car in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Newark. By 1982, she had incorporated her food program as a nonprofit, the Community Foodbank of New Jersey; and today, the organization feeds more than 900,000 people annually. Mrs. DiChiara continues to serve as the organization’s President and CEO.
Mrs. DiChiara’s inspiration comes from her faith, as well as what she learned was happening in South Asia in the 1970s. “My older sister is a medical mission sister and nurse. One of the nuns in her order wrote about serving in Bangladesh and watching all these carts pass her by that were filled with the bodies of children who died of starvation.” Mrs. DiChiara began to wonder what she could do to help and soon found that there were people going hungry right in her own community. According to the Food Research and Action Center, one out of every 11 people in New Jersey goes hungry and that number is on the rise.
In addition to feeding thousands, Mrs. DiChiara’s organization employs 143 people and has 26,000 volunteers. The organization is also one of the largest employers of ex-offenders. Mrs. DiChiara is quick to point out that finding a job is difficult for ex-offenders and often leads to isolation and repeat offenses. “When ex-offenders are able to become part of a community, they are more likely to succeed,” she says.
Mrs. DiChiara’s children both attended the Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, NJ, where she was a member of the Mothers’ Auxiliary. Today, her son, Anthony, a 1980 graduate of the Oak Knoll School, is an attorney and her daughter, Erin, a 1984 graduate of the Oak Knoll School, is an occupational therapist in Atlanta. Mrs. DiChiara and her husband, Anthony, have four grandchildren.