Someone who effects positive change on the world around them — The staff and volunteers at the partner agencies who work directly with the families we serve. They work day in and day out to ensure that the families are cared for, listened to, cheer them on when new opportunities arise, and provide avenues for success in the future.
As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bridget Cutler.
Bridget Cutler is the founder and executive director of Moms Helping Moms Foundation — a New Jersey nonprofit, baby supply and diaper bank. She founded Moms Helping Moms 2011 shortly after she had her first child. While still adjusting to new motherhood, Bridget read a magazine article that changed her life. It was about a mother who decided to give her child up for adoption because she couldn’t stand to hear her crying from hunger. She was overcome with the thought that no mother should ever be faced with that choice, and no child should ever go hungry. She started collecting and distributing baby items from her garage in Hoboken. Since that day in 2011, Ms. Cutler has grown Moms Helping Moms Foundation from a small initiative to a thriving nonprofit that distributes hundreds of thousands of items, including diapers, clothing, strollers, safe sleep solutions, books to low-income families annually.
Ms. Cutler was recognized as a CNN Hero in 2015; received the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award in the Founders / Innovators Category in 2018 for her leadership, dedication, and commitment to addressing childhood poverty; and received a Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award in 2019.
Ms. Cutler earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting from Fairfield University, and her Masters in Elementary Education from Montclair State University. Prior to working at Moms Helping Moms Foundation, Ms. Cutler worked as a CPA at Ernst and Young, JP Morgan and Luxor Capital Group in NYC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
I grew up in Central New Jersey (Middletown). I am the youngest of 5 kids, and my parents divorced by the time I was 5 years old. From that point on I lived with my mother and 4 older siblings. My mother worked full time, but money was definitely an issue since there were so many of us! We always had what we needed though — food, clothing and most importantly lots of love.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read the book ‘Amazing Grace’ by Jonathan Kozol prior to starting college in 2002. This book completely floored me — it was hard to wrap my head around how kids living only about an hour away from where I grew up faced such intense struggles in their daily lives. It really opened my eyes to the extreme inequalities that exist in our society.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I love the quote by Margaret Mead — “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Moms Helping Moms grew from a small thought in my head — the thought that I knew I could do something to help fellow parents — even if it was a tiny thing like giving them some clothing and diapers. Now, because of the passion and dedication of our small but mighty team, we are a dependable resource to over 100,000 individuals in New Jersey who struggle to afford the essentials for their babies.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
My organization, Moms Helping Moms Foundation is a diaper and baby supply bank. Our mission is to provide low-income families in New Jersey with the essential baby items that they need to give their children a safe, happy and healthy start.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
Being a hero is when someone gives of themselves, often without regard for their own personal obligations or safety, for the greater good. They do good and take risks without being asked and without any expectations of accolades or awards.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
- Someone who effects positive change on the world around them — The staff and volunteers at the partner agencies who work directly with the families we serve. They work day in and day out to ensure that the families are cared for, listened to, cheer them on when new opportunities arise, and provide avenues for success in the future.
- Selflessness — We hear so many stories about the selflessness of the parents we provide essentials to — A mom with her children escaping a domestic abuse situation with only the clothes on their backs, a Dad spending months away from his family to pursue a job opportunity after losing both of his local jobs during the height of the pandemic, and simply that a Mom asks for help…one of the hardest things to do as a new Mom is to find that voice and speak up to say I need help.
- Believing positive change is possible — We support a teen parenting program at a local high school. One of the teens that was in the program went on not only to graduate high school, but also completed a master’s program, all while raising a baby as a single mother.
- Being optimistic — Running a non-profit is full of challenges but every time I see diapers headed out the door, or pictures of children in the clothing we provided, or a donor who gives generously of their time or treasure it is truly uplifting and a reminder the work will only continue if we stay optimistic in our ability to effect change!
- Having a vision — I am not alone in this vision of ending diaper need. There are hundreds of grassroot organizations across the country that do the work we do! I look to them for guidance and am constantly in awe of the amazing stories about how they began their diaper banks and the impact they have made in their own communities.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
I think ordinary people who perform heroic acts do so out of a personal belief that we as human beings have a duty to help other human beings when we can.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
In 2011, I had just had my first baby which is overwhelming in many ways — it was such an emotional time. We were fortunate to be able to afford what we needed for our daughter, or have it handed down to us. One day I was reading an article about a mother who gave up her baby for adoption because she could not afford to meet her basic needs. This was a devastating thought — and I decided right then that I could do something to help.
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
My heroes are anyone that dedicates their lives to service of others, whether it be in the nonprofit world, law enforcement, health care or education. The ones do their jobs despite the inherent danger, lack of respect for their career choice, negative rhetoric in the media, etc. They overlook these things because what is important to them is that they are helping and making the world a better place.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
Prior to this unprecedented event, there were already too many people in this country who were suffering due to lack of resources to fulfill their basic needs. This pandemic set those families back even farther and pushed families who were doing alright into the danger zone. In the United States, children shouldn’t be going hungry or attending schools that are woefully underfunded. People who want to work should not only be able to get jobs but should also earn a living wage. Sick people should be provided with healthcare. The problems that existed in these areas before are now exponentially worse. I fear for these Americans’ well-being. I fear that they will not be taken care of.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
Working in the nonprofit world I am reminded every day that good people do exist. I get to work with them every day. These people are driven and resourceful — they are a constant source of inspiration. I also have a lot of faith in the younger generation — I hope that they will not turn a blind eye to the injustices that surround us every day in America. I don’t think they will stand for it.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
I am endlessly inspired by the people who stepped up to do whatever they could to help. The teachers that endured an abrupt switch to an online learning platform and did so with smiles on their faces. The healthcare workers and other essential workers who showed up despite how terrifying their everyday lives were. The teenagers who dedicated their free time to finding vaccine appointments for the elderly. The people who paid for groceries or ran errands for vulnerable neighbors. My own employees who, when given the option to stay home refused and instead showed up at our warehouse every day to make sure we could get essentials to our families who now needed them more than ever. Everyone who did these things despite their own fears, despite having their own families who they were terrified of infecting. These were the stories that have kept me motivated to keep going.
The most disappointing aspect of this past year and a half was fear mongering going on in the news and on social media. People who post and repost and comment on stories that they really know very little about — stories that may very well be false, but they wouldn’t know because they didn’t bother to check. All of these things make this terrifying situation even worse.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
I think COVID shined a brighter light on everyday heroes who are often overlooked. These people should be celebrated every day, not just during a crisis. Educators who are preparing our kids for the future. Healthcare workers who are taking care of our families. Police officers who are keeping us safe. Delivery drivers who get us what we need in record time. Grocery store workers who allow us to buy food and essentials. But there were also those who were not only not helping but working against progress. I think both sets of people have always existed, but this crisis really brought them all to the forefront of our minds.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I would like to think that everyone in the world has a greater appreciation for life and all of the gifts we receive every day just by being alive and healthy. I hope it will get people off social media and spending more time with friends and family. We all know how delicate life is, and we should appreciate what we have rather than focus on what we don’t.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Think about what you can do to make a positive impact on the world. It does not have to be a big thing — hold a door for an elderly person or a parent with a baby carriage. Donate unneeded items to charity. Pick up trash. Organize a bake sale or car wash to benefit a cause. Everyone can do something to make a positive impact on the world. And in my opinion, its these things that make life fulfilling. When you put good out into the world, it will come back to you tenfold.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to start a movement to get people of all races, nationalities, gender identities and socioeconomic backgrounds to sit down together and share their personal truths about their life experiences. And somehow force everyone to really listen! So many problems that we have in the world stem from us not understanding one another. We make unfair assumptions about people who are not like us. We blame them for our problems. We hate them without ever speaking to them. If people could connect on a human level with others that are not like them perhaps, we can start to chip away at all of the hate and start coexisting peacefully.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Bruce Springsteen. Admittedly, I am a huge fan. But more importantly he is a fellow NJ native, and I know he is very philanthropic and cares a lot about social issues, and about the garden state. I would love to talk to him about some of the little-known issues that are keeping families in poverty — the issues that are completely solvable, such as providing families with diapers so they can utilize day care centers and go to work.
How can our readers follow you online?
Facebook handle: MHMFI
Instagram handle: momshelpingmomsfoundation
LinkedIn handle: company/moms-helping-moms-foundation
Giving Back and Volunteer opportunities: www.momshelpingmomsfoundation.org
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!