In Response to Suburban Hunger… More than $600,000 in Fresh Produce Grants!

As suburban poverty has risen, more and more local residents have struggled to put food on the table.  Soup kitchens and food pantries report sharp increases in demand for their services, while their usual sources of support cannot keep up with increased demand for food.  Partners for Health Foundation launched its fresh produce grants program in response to this growing crisis.  The grants emerged from a three-meeting “hunger” colloquium sponsored by the Foundation in 2009.

According to Pam Scott, Executive Director of Partners for Health, “Fresh produce grants are part of the Foundation’s strategy to fight local hunger, and we’re proud to have awarded $656,164 since the program was launched. She adds, “This effort is vital.  Inadequate intake of costly fruits and vegetables is prevalent among all Americans, but particularly so among low income populations, who also experience higher rates of chronic health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.”

Produce grants are currently awarded to these pantries and kitchens in Montclair:  Human Needs Food Pantry, Salvation Army, Toni’s Kitchen, and Seventh Day Adventist Pantry and Meal Program.  St. Peter’s Haven Family Shelter and Healthy Food Pantry in Clifton also receives funding.

Soup kitchens and food pantries report on the impact the grants are making:

At Toni’s Kitchen, funds ensure that fresh vegetables and fruits are served at every meal, and that guests can be given produce to take with them for later in the week.  Toni’s also sends 10 bags of produce into one of the local schools on a weekly basis.  The bags are then placed in the classrooms for children who have ‘forgotten’ to bring a snack.  Anne Mernin, Director of Outreach, adds, “Because the fruit is set out for all of the children, its availability is normalized and there is no stigma or shame in reaching for something.”

Michele Kroeze, Business Manager of The Salvation Army, says, “With this grant, we’re able to serve our guests better quality meals throughout the year.  On Thanksgiving Day, we provide more than 1,200 meals on site and through delivery to area shelters, senior housing facilities and to housebound individuals.  Side dishes for these meals are now made entirely with fresh vegetables

Rev. Peter DeFranco of St. Peter’s Haven Family Shelter and Healthy Food Pantry notes the produce grants led to a collaborative venture with NJ SNAP Ed, a nutritional program offered through Rutgers University to low-income SNAP participants.  The program has helped clients to identify and adopt changes leading to a healthier lifestyle.  “We’ve seen a shift in our clients’ perspective on how fresh produce can benefit them and their families.”

Many who visit the food pantry at the First Seventh Day Adventist Church of Montclair are now eating a more balanced diet.  “We’re encouraged to see that food recipients recognize the importance of eating vegetables and fruits and that they are gradually able to move away from preprocessed foods,” says Pastor Paula Olivier.

The Human Needs Food Pantry continues to see increases in the number of clients and currently serves an average of 1,700 people each week.  “The Partners for Health grants cover nearly half of our yearly produce expenses,” says Mike Bruno, Executive Director.  “We are more than grateful for this budget relief and simply would not be able to keep up if not for their generous support.”

A volunteer prepares bags of fresh produce for distribution to clients of the Human Needs Food Pantry.