Karen DeMarco

2023 Good Neighbor Awards Winner

Title: 
Broker-associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Realty
Company: 
The Food Brigade
Location: 
Tenafly, New Jersey

Feeding More Than Bellies

After a battle with breast cancer, REALTOR® Karen DeMarco was fortunate to have neighbors cook and deliver meals to her home, lifting a heavy burden. Once she recovered, DeMarco wanted to pay the kindness forward. She corralled volunteers and created the Dumont Meal Brigade, which delivered meals to residents facing hardships, such as an illness, job loss or death in the family.

When the pandemic hit, DeMarco saw a spiking need. “I ended up cooking around 1,800 meals in my kitchen,” she says. But she wanted to do more. So DeMarco and her husband, Carmine, created a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and scaled up The Food Brigade significantly. In three years, the organization expanded from one location to three—with a fourth in the works—serving three counties across New Jersey. In 2022, the organization fed 28,000 people, and is on track to double that in 2023.

In her 20-year career in real estate, DeMarco has heard repeatedly about the trials that community members face, from being on a fixed income to being one paycheck away from catastrophe, and she wanted The Food Brigade to be about more than just nourishing clients. It’s also about strengthening community ties.

“In my other volunteering roles, we filled people’s bellies, but then we didn’t know what happened to them afterward,” says Meredith Drobinske, who serves as a pantry manager along with her husband, Jim. Drobrinske has volunteered with The Food Brigade since its inception. “This is more about building long-term relationships. We look forward to seeing the clients each week, and they look forward to seeing us.”

Says DeMarco: “Hunger isn’t going away. We’re always going to have to help feed people. That’s just the way it is. So this has to last long after I’m gone.”

Read Karen's story here

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