Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 20
 
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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Yes We CAN! Food Drives Honored for Contributions to Crisis Ministry

Ellen Gilbert

Yes We CAN! Food Drives has received The Crisis Ministry’s Cream of the Crop award for their “innovative and outstanding efforts to prevent hunger in Mercer County.”

The award was presented at a recent reception honoring Yes We CAN! volunteers and acknowledging the work of the Venkat Foundation’s ScienceMentors program.

“I’m not sure where we’d be without them,” commented Crisis Ministry head Jarrett Kerbel, speaking of the volunteers. “They account for ten percent of our total donations.” That ten percent translates as 72 tons of food for the Ministry, which serves clients throughout Mercer County through its food pantries.

An offshoot of the “National Days of Service” observed during Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, Yes We CAN! now includes 109 volunteers who regularly staff drives at four local grocery stores and two farmers markets.

Recalling the “miserable weather” that accompanied the first food drive, Mr. Kerbel said that his expectations were not high. “We had no idea what would happen, but the innovative food drives rapidly became our largest stream of donated food providing tons of food to our clients, inspiration to our staff, and an opportunity to involve volunteers and the community as a whole. They’re like the postal service; they work in sleet, cold, and heat.”

Food Services Director Mark Smith reported that while 75 percent of the Pantry’s donations go to Trenton residents, aid to Princeton residents has doubled over the last year with over 200 families now receiving food through the Crisis Ministry. The Princeton pantry is located in the basement of Nassau Presbyterian Church, where donations are welcome.

Yes We CAN! volunteers ask shoppers to donate fresh produce or nutrition-rich canned or boxed goods to restock the Crisis Ministry’s food pantries, which serve 3,000 individuals, including 1,000 children, each month. Clients represent all ages, races, and ethnicities and include those with low-paying jobs, those recently out of work, welfare recipients, veterans, the elderly, the disabled, and children, some of whom receive food delivered to their homes.

Since fresh fruits and vegetables are often difficult to come by, donated produce at the farmer markets is particularly welcome. Donations of money, with which volunteers buy produce, are equally welcome, since they provide a revenue source for the farmers, who often donate some of the produce that is left over at the end of the day to Yes We CAN!

“It’s a win-win arrangement,” said Mr. Kerbel, noting that the arrangement works well for participating groceries too. “McCaffrey’s reports they have to provide extra stock during a drive.”

In addition to fresh produce, Mr. Smith said, the pantry appreciates receiving items that are low in salt and sugar. Cans of low-sodium vegetables, low-fructose fruit, and proteins like tuna, salmon, chicken, and chili are welcome, along with shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, hot and cold cereal, pasta, dried beans, rice, and boxed macaroni and cheese.

ScienceMentors

The reception also provided an opportunity to acknowledge the work of Venkat Foundation’s “ScienceMentors” program. Several of this year’s 22 students from Trenton Central High School and their families were present as Director Maureen J. Quinn described how they were matched up with adult mentors who guided them as they did research on an environmental issue of their choice. After six months of preparation, students taught an elementary school class about their respective subjects, and participated in a culminating science fair.

“These awesome kids inspire me every day,” said Ms. Quinn. “Their capacity is so great, but access is limited,” she noted, adding that the project, which is based on “love of learning,” operates without a budget.

Some of the mentors, students, and their projects included retired Sarnoff engineer Doug Raichle working with James Soc on developing battery power; Bristol Myers Squibb employee Vincent Hohn guiding Jordan Vasquez on a solar powered desert greenhouse; and Columbia University researcher Lisa Olson helping Jia Mahmood examine dangerous decibels.

In addition to their science projects, “these awesome kids” also participated in Yes We CAN! food drives, provided “buddy patrol” at this year’s Cadwalader Park Easter Egg Hunt, and helped prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for the elderly poor.

To learn more about ScienceMentors, see www.sciencementors.org. or contact Ms. Quinn at njenquinn@aol.com, or (609) 903-5150.

For more information about Yes We CAN!, click on their website at www.yeswecanfooddrives.org. To volunteer for the food drives, contact Alison Politziner at a.politziner@gmail.com.

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