MULLICA HILL, New Jersey -- "This jar is the little engine that could," said Constantine Benas. " It just reaffirms what we've known for 40 years, that you can never underestimate the amount of compassion that you see around with people you don't even know."
Benas is the owner of Harrison House Diner, which was originally known as P&B and had its humble beginnings in Glassboro before moving to Mullica Hill in 1984.
His family has a history in the food service business that traces back more than 50 years.
About six years ago, Benas was approached by a local nonprofit, Your Place at the Table (YPATT), which hosts a food pantry out of a local church and provides various types of support to families in neighboring towns.
Originally asked to be on the board, he thought the best way he could help was by placing a donation jar near the check-out counter in his diner.
"I said, I think I might be better to collect money," he said. "Just by simple coin drops, little spare change of your bill, and it builds up over time."
But not too long after the jar was introduced to the diner, it became the subject of an infamous theft.
"In August of 2017, two young males came through and took the jar," said Benas. "But the community came back and filled the amount of that jar tenfold by noon that day."
And over the last six years, that jar has collected more than $20,000. That money has mostly been donated to YPATT, but has also contributed to relief from the tornado that ripped through Mullica Hill in September 2021.
"It's really been able to help us stock our shelves," said Kristen Skrobanek, Director of YPATT. "It goes directly to the families as far as support that we need for inventory."
YPATT has various pick-up and receiving times throughout the week and also encourages donation drop-offs in crates outside the doors of Trinity United Methodist Church.
And of course, the jar at the Harrison House Diner will always have its lid removed and ready for several thousands more dollars in donations.
"Now we hit 20, let's go to 50. Why not,?" said Constantine Benas. "And let's get other people involved, too. So that this jar can finally feed everybody that is in need. So, there won't be a need any more."