By Jennifer Hanawald
What would you do if you had to choose between paying the bills and putting a decent meal on the table? With poverty rising twice as fast in the suburbs than in cities, that’s become the reality for an increasing number of our neighbors, right here in Montclair.
Partners for Health, a non-profit foundation dedicated to strengthening health and wellness in the Montclair area, is seeking to bolster support for local emergency feeding programs that are stretching to keep up with rising demand.
Anne Mernin, director of community outreach at Toni’s Kitchen, recently noted a 62 percent increase in the meals the food ministry has served over the past five years, with the biggest gains coming from the working poor and senior citizens.
So in addition to financial and strategic support, the Foundation is launching a year-long campaign designed to engage all of our community to share resources, energy and creativity to increase access to healthy food for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Pam Scott, executive director of the Foundation, said, “The Fight Hunger the Healthy Way campaign is a call for schools, teams, clubs, congregations, youth groups, businesses, families, and individuals to take action on behalf of those who depend upon emergency food programs.”
The focus is on nutritious foods, including fresh produce, said Scott, because “healthier foods are a key way to combat preventable illnesses and conditions that are linked to poor diets.”
Youth participation is also a priority. Scott said, “We want to make younger people more aware of hunger in suburbia, and more importantly, to inspire them to take action.”
This is particularly meaningful because kids are hit hardest by food insecurity, with one in five children in New Jersey living in homes without enough money to make ends meet.
To facilitate age appropriate involvement, the Foundation has developed thoughtfully designed toolkits that incorporate easy-to-execute ideas of how to conduct food drives by linking them to one-time sports events and other activities. Groups or individuals can use the materials to learn more about local hunger, launch an event and donate proceeds.