PATERSON– A line quickly formed outside of Eva’s Village in Paterson Thursday, inside dozens of volunteers gathered around the dining hall, setting up for a Thanksgiving feast that feeds hundreds.
Volunteers included politicians, like Senator Bob Menendez.
“This is the essence of what America’s all about, people helping other people as Americans. And giving thanks that there but-for-the-grace-of-god I might be sitting at one of the tables,” Menendez said.
Also among the elected officials and clients who waited to eat a meal, many take for granted is Ronny Moultrie. Moultrie was a former client at Eva’s Village, now a part-time employee.
“Paterson is a caring community and it’s not just about giving thanks it’s about giving back, it speaks to the character of the city, it was built on a vision and that’s how we’re going to rebuild the city as well.,” Paterson Mayor Andre Savegh said.
Moultrie said he came to Eva’s for Thanksgiving for six years in a row and thanks to the community kitchen’s work, he was able to turn his life around.
“Being on this side is a 360 degree turn around, that’s why it says Eva’s Village where hope begins because if you give yourself that little bit of hope that you can turn yourself around and get the help you need it will happen,” Moultrie said.
For many of the community kitchen’s clients, the people they meet and eat with at Eva’s become extended family.
“They consider this to be like an extended family so it’s a really important celebration not just because we’re feeding people but because we’re coming together and we have this sense of community and sense of welcoming,” Executive Vice President of Development and External Relations Heather Thompson said.
Tony Vater, a life-long Paterson resident has been coming to Eva’s Village for several years. He said regardless of life’s struggles every other day of the year, Eva’s never fails to give him a reason to be thankful today.
“I look forward to this every single year, I think it’s great. I always sit at this table every year and these are people I see every day,” Vater said.
Eva’s Village will resume its normal service of providing three meals a day to anyone who needs food on Friday.
ORANGE — A day before Thanksgiving dinner, Senator Cory Booker along with local officials worked alongside volunteers to hand out meals in Essex County.
Sen. Booker says food insecurity is an ever-present issue across the state of New Jersey.
“So let’s support the kind of policies that empower families who work hard and play by the rules in a very expensive state to be able to meet the cost of living, but in the meantime everybody has to take responsibility for these challenges,” says Sen. Booker.
According to the Center for Good Action in New Jersey, the amount of New Jersey residents receiving Snap benefits, or food stamps, dropped 14 percent from 2016. However, Jodi Cooperman of the Interfaith Food Pantry says the region she serves is in more need than ever.
“Five or six year ago we had about 100 people a week coming for food, we’re now up to about 250, 300 people a week coming,” says Cooperman.
Since this Thanksgiving is set to be one of the coldest, food banks are accepting donations for winter gear as well.
HILLSIDE – New York Giants players teamed up with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey on Tuesday for a Thanksgiving tradition to end hunger. The players came to the food bank to help unload 15 hundred turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving on Thursday. Stop & Shop donated the turkeys, which will be sent right back out to some of the 800 partners the food bank has across the state.
The food bank usually has volunteers passing around turkeys during the holiday season, but this time it is allowing five New York Giants players to use their hands off the field and put them to good use in the community.
“These guys are as compassionate as they are big and talented players. It’s amazing to hear how some who were born right here in New Jersey are doing similar things in their home communities so it really helps to create another level of awareness,” Community Food Bank of New Jersey President and CEO Carlos Rodriguez said.
Giants Tight End Evan Engram said to be able to use his platform to give back is a blessing.
“It’s just a major blessing to be here and be part of a great cause helping a lot of people in need and being part of that is a great feeling and a blessing to be here,” Engram said.
Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese, who was helping to pass the turkeys right along with the towering players, said they may show off their muscles on the field but it’s their hearts that are making the biggest impact.
“If the Giants can support this cause, you can support it too, you’re never too good to participate and make sure people are taken care of, when you’re privileged you should always make sure to give back,” Vertreese said.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey will be distributing more than 25,000 turkeys this holiday season.
EDISON – To combat hunger on community college campuses, the Murphy Administration announced it is expanding the State’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to include eligible students in career and technical fields in community college.
At Middlesex County Community College, 25 percent of students come from household incomes of less than $30,000, and more than half of them work part time. According to the New Jersey Department of Human Resources, 30,000 families in Middlesex County are food insecure.
“About 67,000 students in community college are in career and technical assistance programs and about 45 percent of them report being lower income,” New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Carol Johnson said.
Interim President of Middlesex Community College Mark McCormick said students and faculty members created a food pantry at the college center, which opened in January. He said so far, more than 80 students have visited the pantry more than once.
“Part of this issue is getting the word out that we’re doing this and that it’s okay,” McCormick
Student leaders like Isabella Ardito said solving food insecurity involves finding out who’s in need and overcoming stigma.
“We just have to let people know and spread the word and its okay,” Ardito said.
HILLSIDE — The Community Food Bank of New Jersey’s Community Kitchen hosts a culinary arts academy whose Production Manager, Daryl Walker, trained there himself six years ago.
Walker was facing a 25 year to life sentence for drug-related charges. He found out about the culinary program while in a halfway house. After years of hearing he wasn’t going to amount to anything, Walker was hopeful for a change.
Chef Daryl, as his culinary students call him, graduated at the top of his class from the Food Bank of New Jersey’s Food Service Training Academy.
“When I came here, they told me everything different. I could be somebody, I could help people, I could be a positive role model, and they showed me how to do that,” says Walker.
The food service training academy offered by the food bank is a free 15-week program for people in need of a second chance, like former prisoners or those returning to the workforce.
Students and graduates say the food service training academy is like being part of a big family where graduates can always return for further education.
“When they’re telling us to do something, it’s for our best interest, because they’ve been through this and they know exactly what it takes to be in this field,” says Tahzia Carr, a graduate of the program.