When the pandemic came along in March and shut down much of the world, including Barney Corrigan’s catering business, the Westville man felt a need to keep serving the public.
Corrigan had what he thought was a modest idea: collect a few canned goods and offer them to people in need. He built a small food pantry for the cans on the front lawn of his Gloucester County home.
“I was hoping just to get enough to fill the pantry,” he said.
Instead, he received much more, thanks in part to a social media lift that raised awareness of his pandemic project.
The first time Corrigan, 42, opened his food pantry to the public in late March, eight people came to his home. By September, the crowd had swelled to about 200 people. The pantry is open every other Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The visitors still come to Corrigan’s home, but now the food is in his garage — he long outgrew the space he had on his lawn.
“I thought I would have a hard time keeping that little thing filled,” Corrigan said, referring to his original pantry. “I said maybe if I had to refill it once a month, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would come to this.”
So how did a small idea grow to be so big for Corrigan, a married father of four?
Social media, for one. And that led to several television interviews.
His brother Drew Corrigan, 27, who lives in Hawthorne, N.J., is a social media coordinator for ESPN. Drew posted a video to Reddit, saying that his brother runs a free, donation-based food pantry. He listed Barney’s address and asked people to please spread the word.
“Drew’s video set everything off,” Barney said.
His brother also posted on several other outlets, and soon the food pantry was inundated with donations.
“I definitely could not do what Barney has done, so God bless him for taking this on,” Drew said.
Barney, meanwhile, credits his wife, Bernadette Corrigan, for helping him to get the pantry off the ground.
“She has a good job working for Union Bank in New York, so that allows me to do this,” he said.
Like many, his wife has been working from home since April.
And while Barney Corrigan said he has one catering job coming up in November, working at his own food pantry will continue to take up most of his time.
That’s because his effort keeps getting major attention. Corrigan was interviewed on the inaugural Drew Barrymore Show, which aired Sept. 14.
“We want to shine a light on people doing extraordinary things and for everyone to know that there is goodness happening in the world, that humans are having each other’s back, which I am convinced is the meaning of life,” Barrymore said while giving the check to an emotional Corrigan.
“Every episode is a heartwarming, uplifting story, just like Barney’s,” said Lea Whitener, senior producer and casting director of the show.
Corrigan’s work has been appreciated by those who have benefited from it.
“It is very important. I am out of work now,” said a West Deptford man who requested anonymity and was in the receiving line on a recent Saturday. “I also have health issues, and it is great when you find people willing to do something for you. It is a blessing.”
With the newly donated mobile unit, Corrigan said he will be able to go to places such as senior housing facilities and homeless shelters to deliver food to those who can’t come to his home.
His next goal is to expand beyond his garage and the mobile pantry.
“My goal is to get a place,” he said. “I need a place for storage, where I can hold the pantries, preferably a kitchen and refrigeration, and we will go from there.” he said. “That is the goal — a bigger place, I definitely need that.”
Corrigan said he is humbled by how many people have contributed to his food pantry.
“We have gotten 700 to 800 Amazon packages from all over the world,” he said. “It has been amazing, all the generosity.”
And it started with Corrigan and his small little pantry.
“I didn’t see this all coming,” he said. “I am so grateful to be part of this. It has changed my life.”