When the coronavirus pandemic first hit New Jersey in March, John Ropelski, owner of the bakery and cafe &Grain in Garwood, knew he wanted to do something to help feed families in need.
Before “this all started getting crazy,” the Westfield Fun Club—an organization dedicated to assisting refugee families with food and essential items—approached him, asking for any bread he had leftover at the end of the day. Ropelski began donating loaves of bread for the more than 40 families served by the organization.
Then, on March 21, all non-essential businesses were forced to close, causing a surge in layoffs and unemployment claims. That’s when Ropelski extended his free bread program to the public.
“For me, it’s such an easy thing. Bread is such a common denominator,” says Ropelski. “Everybody needs bread.”
Every day, Ropelski fields calls and requests for bread—and is happy to do so. He and his team bake as many loaves as needed for the following day, handing three different kinds out at no cost to anyone who asks—single moms, the elderly, the newly unemployed. “If you tell me you need it, I’m giving it to you, no questions asked,” he says.
There’s now a GoFundMe page raising funds to support &Grain’s continued relief efforts. “I never thought people would donate to it,” says Ropelski. “I just wanted to keep doing it to keep busy. I’m blessed with the fact that I’m still able to stay open. I get up every day and go to work, and do what I can to not only survive myself, but help others, too.”
Ropelski hopes to increase his reach, and wants the public to know there’s bread available should they need it. “I’ll do it until I can’t do it anymore,” he says.
Like many of us across the Garden State, Ropelski has been moved by the amount of generosity and community that’s grown from this crisis. “Out of all this darkness has come a lot of light,” he says.
&Grain, 700 North Avenue, Garwood; 908-232-2233.Click here to leave a comment