Running a food pantry takes a lot of skill sets: organization, ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness. Maria Siegel checks all those boxes, but she also brings to her work a unique level of entrepreneurship.
Maria leads The Pantry at Victory Assembly of God, which serves nearly 500 families a month. It’s run out of the church that she and her husband co-founded in 1989.
Her path to South Jersey is as unique as the visible passion she brings to her work. Maria grew up in Essex County and graduated from Cedar Crest College. She went on to Tyler College of Art at Temple University for graduate school, where she obtained a master’s degree in fine arts in metals. After teaching for a few years, she moved back to North Jersey where she began a business making one-of-a-kind and limited-edition fine art jewelry.
When she moved to South Jersey to start Victory Assembly of God with her husband, everything changed. They built the church from scratch.
“Over the years, I’ve had every job in the church, except my husband’s” she jokes.” Children’s pastor, youth pastor, special events coordinator, treasurer, and for 10 glorious years, I ran a missions outreach program that enabled our church to touch the world with an unstoppable message of hope and love.”
Speaking of scratch, she also started making bread – 100 loaves at a time – and established a homemade bread company called Wholly Oats which helped support her young family early on.
For the first 6 years of the pantry, she and a small group of friends made handmade chocolates, to help subsidize the Pantry’s expenses.
Her entrepreneurial spirit is similarly seen through the fine-tuned machine of her distributions, which involve 50-60 people to make happen. She calls it a “beautiful human machine.”
“It’s never been about a bag of groceries,” says Maria about starting the pantry. “It’s about sharing and making sincere human connections. It’s about making sure that people are seen and known and valued for who they are. That kind of love has the power to change a life.”