Hands of Hope founder Jackie Goedesky honored for decades of service

The food pantry Jackie Goedesky founded three decades ago in the basement of St. James Episcopal Church in Edison is now a thriving center of humanitarianism, feeding thousands of Middlesex County families each year.

Known as Hands of Hope for the Community, Goedesky’s vision came to fruition because of her tireless efforts and those of dozens of volunteers who have emulated her exemplary service.

The inspirational 86-year-old, who dedicated much of her life to helping others, was honored during a surprise retirement dinner at the Pines Manor on Wednesday night.

“Jackie has done so much in her life, but the main thing Jackie has done for the last 30 years is help out those in need the most by operating the food pantry for the community,” said Middlesex County Commissioner Charles Tomaro, a longtime Hands of Hope volunteer.

“She has gotten so many people involved in that pantry because of her outreach in the community. Jackie has been a great inspiration to everybody she’s ever come in contact with.”

After serving fewer than a dozen families out of a basement closet when the food pantry opened its doors in 1992, Hands of Hope for the Community grew to feed more than 3,500 families 25 years later.

Today, amid rising gas prices and escalating inflation rates, Hands of Hope’s mission has never been more vital.

An estimated 800,000 New Jersey residents are food insecure, meaning they don’t have reliable access to quality, affordable and nutritious food. NJ101.5 reported earlier this week that food banks and food pantries statewide are struggling to meet rising demand.

“This pantry will come in handy for those people who need a little bit of food to get by throughout the week,” Tomaro said. “People always need food to eat and we are there to provide whatever we can for them. I think need is going to grow. We’ll be ready for it.”

Friends and family – including Goedesky’s daughters, Debe and Peggy, as well as her granddaughter, Jacqueline – were among those who delivered remarks that were both poignant and playful during Wednesday night’s celebration. Members of Hands of Hope’s board of directors also reflected upon Goedesky’s impact on the community.

A retrospective video displayed a tapestry of memories, chronicling Goedesky’s time at Hands of Hope, which over the years has also donated toys, school supplies and clothing, as well as conducted health fairs and other activities to benefit the community.

The words “God Has a Plan,” which reflect Goedesky’s mantra, were inscribed atop a sheet cake that also wished the Hands of Hope founder a “Happy Retirement.”

The dinner culminated with Goedesky, in her usual style, deflecting attention from herself and crediting those around her with the food pantry’s success. Tomaro presented Goedesky with a beautiful plaque on behalf of the food pantry.

Hands of Hope’s inspirational leader may have retired, but the food pantry will still open its heart and doors to the community on the first and third Saturday of each month. Those Saturdays reflect the time and energy the food pantry’s all-volunteer staff invests year-round to help others.

Through the efforts of a dedicated board of directors, passionate volunteers and a benevolent community that provides support, the food pantry Jackie founded continues to place hope in the hands of those who are hungry and in need.

According to a MyCentralJersey.com report, Goedesky learned charity from her 90-year-old grandmother, who rode horseback to take clothes and food to others in need. Goedesky herself experienced food insecurity, which served as her own calling to service.

“I will never forget those early years as a young mom with nothing to eat,” Goedesky told MyCentralJersey.com. “I made the promise to God if I ever had the opportunity to help someone in need, I would.”

That “someone” Goedesky promised to help decades ago turned out to be thousands of individuals.

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