Darlene Trappier is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, recognizing women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program is launched in 2022 year as a continuation Women of the century, which was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
It was a 19-year-old woman who lived in the park and hid behind the bushes to drown out the cries of a newborn baby.
Darlene Trappier knew homelessness.
She was a young mother with two mouths to feed and very little money, eating her children’s leftover oatmeal and soaking chicken bones in water to make herself feel full.
Darlene Trappier has known hunger.
Her children never knew she was struggling—one of her mother’s superpowers—and when Trappier’s life, also marked by sexual, physical and emotional abuse, began to change for the better, she promised God she would use him to make a difference.
Darlene Trappier knew hope.
“Can you get me out of this situation?” – she prayed. “If you do, I promise I will keep my word and not let anyone else … feel what I feel.”
Years later: “I kept my promise.”
Trappier, 62, is the founder beacon of hope a nonprofit organization that provides hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Every Friday, the group’s staff and volunteers hand out bags of dry food — beans, rice, canned goods, spaghetti — as well as meat, produce, eggs, butter, bread and pastries to people lining the sidewalk outside their Mount Holly office.
It opened with one apartment refrigerator, one freezer and five clothes racks. Ten years later, the organization has 24 freezers, two 40-foot shipping containers, a 17-foot truck and an apartment next door that employees can rent. Beacon of Hope gives away between 600,000 and 900,000 pounds of food each year.
“We provide food because people are hungry,” said Trappier, who in 2022 was one of 25 people from across the country selected to participate White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. “I know what hunger is.”
And it doesn’t stop there. If someone needs a safe place to sleep, Trappier finds them a motel room and gives them frozen meals. If they need help with health care, rent, security deposits, utility bills, transportation or funeral expenses, Beacon of Hope is here. In the summer, they provide food for children who eat only from school.
Even a month-long hospitalization due to COVID-19 couldn’t stop Trappier from helping. With IVs in hand and an oxygen mask over her face, she arranged for housing and managed her staff of 11, all of whom “were on the other side of the table,” she said.
“Everybody here has been in that situation; that’s what makes it work,” she said. “I call it falling below life; I don’t like to say homeless or struggling.’
Trappier’s promise to give back shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s picking up speed. In 2023, she plans to move Beacon of Hope from a 786-square-foot home to a three-building building more than 10 times over. It has staff housing, a county-wide COVID-19 quarantine center, a 3,000-square-foot event storefront, a cold-weather shelter warehouse and temporary housing.
“It’s coming together,” said Trappier, USA TODAY’s New Jersey Woman of the Year honoree. – I kept my word.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Darlene Trappier is a USA TODAY New Jersey Woman of the Year
Darlene Trappier, owner and executive director of Beacon of Hope in Mount Holly, has turned a small food pantry into a thriving business.
Chris LaChole, Cherry Hill Courier Post
I was working for an insurance company, went on a trip and hurt my back. I was lying in a hotel room and the Lord said, “I need to talk to you.” Now we can begin your journey of fulfilling your promise.” I left that job and opened a retail store, a dollar store.
I learned to pay attention to the elders, because from the 21st to the end of the month they buy a lot of animal feed. Why is this? Because they ran out of money. But they don’t buy for pets the first 20 days of the month.
I put the notebook down and said to them, “Write down what you would like to see in the store.” I created a wish list (for) everything they need; most of it consisted of corned beef, tuna, canned chicken, Vienna sausage, sardines, breadcrumbs. On the night of the 20th, we would put it on the shelf. I gave them $10, so they got $10 in credit. Sometimes they came and returned, sometimes they didn’t. But I never asked for them back.
It was I who began to fulfill my promise.
My kids are the reason I do what I do because I want them to understand that life isn’t always fair. But as long as you put everything you have into it and keep your word—you can sign a contract, but your word is your obligation, and that’s one of the things that inspired me to do what I do.
When I opened my retail store, it allowed me to help other people. We sold food, but at the same time we could take care of other people.
“It may be difficult, but difficult is easier than impossible.” We do this by showing families and individuals that you can rise above your situation and circumstances. Just because life has pushed you, you can give it back by doing something good for yourself and also by doing something good for someone else. And that’s what we do.
What keeps me going is my faith in God, my children, and my staff, who constantly encourage me to keep going, because we have a responsibility to make sure that people who have fallen below life have a chance to rise.
Look inside yourself. Do not always depend on other people. You have to do it for you. You have to toughen up, grow a second skin and understand that life will not always be kind to you. But you have to be kind to yourself. You have to let yourself know that “I didn’t do it today, but tomorrow will be another opportunity to change yesterday’s mistakes.”