One woman's personal annual food drive

Kathy Denz is showing bagful of collected foods in her trunk of a car parked her mother’s home in Magnolia, NJ on November 23, 2013. For 14 years, Bellmawr resident Kathy Denz has taken it upon herself to collect food for the Food Bank of SJ. She has volunteers, including her mother, but mostly runs the whole thing out of the trunk of her car. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)

Kathy Denz, who started her one-woman food drive 13 years ago, can't accept that some children go to bed hungry.

"Just the thought of it makes me cry," the Bellmawr resident, 44, says.

I know what she means: During the Depression, my mother's family became poor and hungry.

Swallowing her pride, my grandmother brought home sacks of rice and beans from the relief office, and made a meal whose ingredients my mother would love for the rest of her life.

This bit of family history inspired me to visit Denz last weekend at her childhood home in Magnolia, where she was getting her annual effort underway.

The drive started Friday and runs until Dec. 20. It benefits the Food Bank of South Jersey, a Pennsauken nonprofit serving 250 pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, and other sites in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties.

"The need has never been greater," procurement manager Michael Leslie says. "We have about 200 [annual] food drives by individuals and corporations, and Kathy's is very ambitious. She's very passionate."

I'll say. Denz personally distributes fliers, arranges for collection sites - there are 21 this year - and delivers plastic collection barrels provided by the Food Bank as requested. Some sites provide their own containers.

"It's all nonperishables, in boxes and packages. We can't take jars because the glass might break," she says. "I'm not equipped to take turkeys, although I wish I was."

"Kathy's always been a very giving person," says her mother, Marie, a retired Pennsauken Middle School teacher.

"I like a challenge," Kathy Denz explains. "I like to prove that one person can make a difference. And why should children go hungry in our own backyard?"

She uses a dolly to transport the full barrels to her car, then drives to a donated storage unit in Blackwood, where a Food Bank truck picks everything up, usually a day or two before Christmas.

"One year, by myself, I moved over 7,200 pounds of food," Denz says, noting that her boss - Pennsauken chiropractor Ron Zwiebaum - "gives me free adjustments, so that helps."

As we spoke, Denz's car was parked outside, its trunk stuffed with nearly 200 pounds of food. The bounty was provided by participants at the Pagan Pride event at Cooper River Park in October; Denz is a practicing Pagan.

"To me, being a Pagan means being more spiritual than religious," she says. "We honor nature and kindness and [try] to be kind to Mother Earth and our fellow man."

Support for food banks is a signature Pagan Pride program, says Amie Tolomeo, a Maple Shade dog groomer who is the regional coordinator of the national organization.

Paganism, she explains, is not atheism.

"We celebrate the harvest and give to those who are in need," she says, adding that this is a way to thank "our gods, goddesses, ancestors, and the earth . . . for the abundance they have given us."

Says Denz, "I do this because I am grateful I'm not in the situation of people who are hungry. And I want to help people who are."

For information about the food drive, visit "Kathy Denz" on Facebook.

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan