Almost 40,000 residents of Mercer County are food insecure, and for many, getting to a food pantry presents an obstacle.
Some are senior citizens who do not drive or whose poor health prevents them from taking public transportation. Others may live in areas where public transportation is not readily available.
Starting in January, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County hopes to change that.
“We decided we wanted to bring food to the community,” said Michelle Napell, the agency’s Executive Director. “We realized a lot of people have difficulty getting to brick and mortar pantries, and after speaking with our food pantry partners, we realized it was a problem happening everywhere, not just at our pantry.”
They tested their theory this year, with pop-up pantries at nonprofit partners, like Better Beginnings Child Development Center in Hightstown and Dress for Success Central New Jersey – 7 Counties in Lawrenceville. Those on-site pantries were a success.
So the agency bought and retrofitted a 16-foot box truck, equipping it with two refrigerators, a freezer, shelving, bins for produce and lighting that will allow them to serve clients in the evening, said Beth Englezos, the nonprofit’s Manager of Hunger Prevention.
They plan to make two visits a week starting at the end of January, with plans to serve 50 families at each stop. Clients receive bags of food based on their families’ sizes and nutritional guidelines, but clients also get to choose the food they want (for example, nutrition guidelines call for whole grains, but clients get to choose from the products that are stocked in the pantry.)
“Another big piece of this is serving people with dignity,” Beth said, adding that because of their partnerships with other agencies, clients will not have to wait outside in harsh weather, and at senior citizen complexes, food can be delivered directly to clients’ doors.
Michelle and her staff also hope to hold pop-up food drives, parking the truck in the lots of grocery stores and office complexes, where volunteers can help stock the shelves.
“The food pantry is also going to be great volunteer opportunity for people, not just for corporations but individuals, who can help at distribution sites and help us shop to stock the pantry,” Michelle said.
She estimates it will cost $260,000 a year – $5,000 a week – to fund the mobile pantry, with each stop costing $2,500. Eventually, with enough funding, they hope to be on the road, every day, making stops twice a day.
“There’s so much food insecurity in Mercer County,” said Michelle. “This is a new way for people to get food in an easier way.”
To learn more about the program or to make a donation, visit their website, at https://www.jfcsonline.org/. To recommend a grant through your Donor Advised Fund at the Community Foundation, visit the Donor Central portal on our website, www.pacf.org.