Back in November, Jersey Bites hosted the second Blogging Out Hunger online event. This cyber-movement was created to support Check-Out Hunger—the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s annual fundraiser. With its signature $1, $2, $3, and $5 tickets at grocery-store check-out counters, Check-Out Hunger started in New Jersey in 1991, and has grown to include 32 food banks in nine states and Washington, DC.
While this season’s Check-Out Hunger campaign, coordinated by Mary O’Connell, has come to a close within grocery stores, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey is still incredibly busy and they need your help. Jersey Bites recently had the opportunity to chat with O’Connell about just a few of the organization’s year-round opportunities for volunteers and donors alike.
Check-Out Hunger Online
The in-store effort has wrapped up for the season, but the website is always up and running. According to O’Connell, people often ask, “Do you really get that money?” She says, “Yes, we really get that money. And we get every penny of it.” Online donations can be made throughout the year and you can choose which food bank you want your donation to go to.
Tools 4 Schools
The FoodBank’s reach extends far beyond food. The Tools 4 Schools program allows schools in need to come to the FoodBank’s headquarters in Hillside to get source materials they need. O’Connell explains, “In poorer public school systems, the teachers do an awful lot of subsidizing materials for the children in their classrooms. It’s sometimes hard for people who are better off to understand that that means the children don’t have paper, they don’t have pencils, pens, crayons, crafts materials.”
All supplies are donated, and the Resource Center is stocked and run by FoodBank staff as well as volunteers. Monetary donations are also welcome.
In conjunction with Feeding America, a national network of food banks, the FoodBank provides hot meals for children in afterschool programs at its agencies through Kids Cafes. The number of Kids Cafes varies all the time, according to O’Connell. She says, “It’s our opportunity to work through our agencies to make sure we’re doing what we can.” The program includes tutoring, homework assistance, and computer training (where available) as well.
In addition to monetary donations and sponsorships, the Kids Café program welcomes volunteer tutors, mentors, and food servers.
Also part of Feeding America, this initiative serves schools where children who are in need receive a backpack full of essential foods that they can take home on Friday afternoons. O’Connell points out that there’s always a need for volunteers to help fill the thousands of backpacks that are distributed.
Food Service Training Academy
The Community FoodBank of New Jersey offers training for entry-level jobs in the food service industry. “It’s basically designed to help people who need a second chance in life or who never really had an opportunity to develop any particular job skills,” explains O’Connell. “That ties in very much to everything else that we do here.”
The Academy follows a 14-week curriculum, and students prepare the meals at the Kids Café as part of their training. If you are an employer who’s interested in ServSafe Certified kitchen help, call 908-355-3663 ext. 240.
Other Opportunities to Help
Beyond these specific initiatives and programs, there are still several ways you can lend the Community FoodBank of New Jersey a much-needed hand throughout the year.
-Representatives at special events
-Check-Out Hunger reps to serve participating locations
Every holiday season, food banks enjoy a real moment in the sun. Corporations encourage employees to volunteer their time, local businesses hold food drives, and people are genuinely into the spirit of giving. When the new year arrives, however, it often brings with it a quiet time for organizations that depend on help from the public to maintain a robust presence. While the level of service and volunteerism around the holidays is truly inspirational (and appreciated!), groups like the Community FoodBank of New Jersey rely on volunteers and donations throughout the year.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey has a lot on its plate. Come take a bite.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Community FoodBank should contact the Volunteer Services Department at (908) 355-3663 to arrange dates and times prior to visiting.
Rachel Bozek is a freelance writer and editor based in suburban Essex County. She grew up in Bergen County, and has lost track of how much time she’s spent on LBI and in the Wildwoods. Her search for the perfect pancake continues. www.rachelbozek.com