This article was written by Amanda Dobbs
The uncertainty of the pandemic engulfed us all when the schools announced last year that they needed to close in-school learning to protect public health. Communities rallied together, some organizing ‘pandemic pods,’ others providing daycare for neighbors. That’s when Anna Gerdeen and other Camden area community members began brainstorming ways to help families stay safe and healthy during this challenging time.
Kevin Aldwaik offered much support and donated the registration fees for the state. The Camden Lions encouraged folks to make a pitch at their meeting; they immediately passed a motion to offer to partner by providing insurance and volunteers. Eric Hoffer, the pastor at Salem Church, assisted in providing space. And so many others helped fortify this organization with generous donations and by sharing their gifts. This is how the Camden Collective came to be.
They began by offering tutoring during distance learning, both in person and digitally. This had an immensely positive impact on the families enrolled. The tutoring program gave children an opportunity to be social during an incredibly isolating time; they received one-on-one tutoring, as well as created crafts, played games and engaged in physical activities.
The tutoring program reached many families and as the needs of the community changed throughout the pandemic, the Camden Collective found new ways to serve. Partnering with the Sanneh Foundation, the Camden Collective has been able to share boxes of food weekly since January 13, 2021. They began with fresh produce boxes but now are turning towards offering more pantry staples. The grant sources have changed throughout the year and that may switch up the contents in the boxes to make them more relevant to families. There are occasional nonperishable useful items included and almost every week there are fresh cooked meals available as well.
By the end of the year, 18 students between grades 1-8 were served through the tutoring. Meaningful relationships were forged, and the students finished the school year with confidence. Between January through November, the Camden Collective has served over 1700 unique households and over 8000 individuals. Many weekly boxes of food are delivered to Hamilton manner, a local senior housing facility.
During the past year this amazing organization hosted two winter gear give-aways, hosted a fantastic community fall festival, a winter festival, and a baby shower event to support families with young children. Donations are always welcome as they make community events more vibrant. This January, the Camden Collective will be offering paid positions to youth in our community with the intent of building and growing mentoring relationships.
Save the date of February 12 for an upcoming FUNdraiser dance party. Come enjoy food, drinks, dancing, kid friend activities, a silent action and connecting with community. Look for more information about this event and the Camden Collective on their Facebook Page or contact Anna directly at Anna@theCamdenCollective.org.
Volunteers and dedicated community members are responsible for the success of the Camden Collective. Neighbors are welcome to stop by for a box of food and stay for the conversations. Rebecca Resch, one committed volunteer beamed, “I love having the opportunity to meet many of my neighbors and I really love how diverse our neighborhood is. It’s amazing to be able to send good healthy food to families who can use it.”
In hopes of being able to double the amount of people served, the food sharing event will move from Wednesday afternoons to Saturdays from 1-3 p.m. They are expanding hours and offer food sharing events on a day that is more accessible for people. These events are located at the Salem Church parking lot at 4150 Dupont Ave N. The food share events respect all COVID protocols and are hosted outside, rain or shine as long as the weather is safe. There is plenty for all, so please stop by!