July 8, 2020

PU, PPS, Nonprofits Work Together to Combat Food Insecurities in Mercer County

By Donald Gilpin

In the face of unprecedented food insecurities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Princeton University is teaming up with Princeton Public Schools (PPS) and three Mercer County nonprofits this summer to provide thousands of meals to local communities.

In launching its six-week Summer Food and Nutrition Program this week, the University is collaborating with PPS,  HomeFront, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, and Meals on Wheels of Mercer County to help feed hungry individuals in Princeton; on the Route 1 corridor near Princeton; and in Trenton, Lawrenceville, East Windsor, West Windsor, and Hightstown.

“All of our hearts are lifted at the Mission by the University’s generosity, compassion, and commitment to address food insecurity, particularly during this pandemic which is challenging us like never before,” said Rescue Mission of Trenton Chief Operating Officer Barrett Young.

Princeton University’s Campus Dining, Office of Community and Regional Affairs, and John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement are working together to provide more than 14,000 meals in the coming weeks to those who are homeless and those in recovery and treatment at the Rescue Mission.

”The food we prepare will be serving toddlers at HomeFront to seniors in their 90s through Meals on Wheels,” said Princeton University Campus Dining Assistant Vice President Smitha Haneef.  “This is a highly diverse population in and around Princeton. We are going to partner with them to serve people in need in the area with healthy, nutritious, freshly prepared meals.”

The program will offer continuity of employment, including health benefits to campus dining employees who normally work for nine months a year, as the University team prepares approximately 9,500 meals each week from July 7 to August 16 to be distributed to about 1,800 to 2,000 people.

“As one can imagine, COVID-19 brought many challenges to us and those we serve; a higher demand for our meals from the community, and higher food and production costs,” said Meals on Wheels of Mercer County Chief Executive Officer Sasa Olessi Montano. “This initiative is going to help us redirect some of our precious resources so we may continue to meet the increased demand for our meals all over the county into the future, as it is clear that our seniors must continue to shelter in place for some time. This is a time when those who can must step up and support those who cannot.”

The Summer Food and Nutrition Program will be providing 540 meals each week that Meals on Wheels will deliver to homebound individuals throughout the county.

Haneef noted that her chefs and Campus Dining team have been working together to “bring our own philosophy about preparing well balanced, nutritionally dense foods for every meal.”  She added, “Many of our staff members have contributed recipes that they would prepare at home with simple ingredients from the pantry. We included those simple recipes on our website as another way to help families preparing healthy, nutritious meals together in the summertime.”

Haneef continued, “This is an effort to provide care for communities. This is Princeton University’s way of sharing our continuing care with our community both in Princeton and in towns around us.” 

The PPS free/reduced price lunch program, in collaboration with Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPPrinceton), delivers breakfast and lunch seven days a week and three family dinners per week to about 500 students. In assisting that initiative, the Summer Food and Nutrition Program is preparing and packaging the three-per-week family meals and the weekend breakfasts and lunches. SHUPPrinceton is providing families with a bag of produce once a week. The University contributed $25,000 in April to SHUPPrinceton to support PPS students.

In its collaboration with HomeFront, the Summer Food and Nutrition Program is providing meals to homeless individuals and families living in motel rooms on Route 1 and an additional 200 meals each week for mothers and toddlers living on the HomeFront campus in Lawrence. 

“Princeton University’s commitment to the community has been ongoing and growing,” said HomeFront founder and CEO Connie Mercer. “It has been extremely helpful to folks devastated by the pandemic and its economic consequences. Getting dinner in the evening, delivered by the HomeFront staff, knowing food will arrive, helps to ease the burden for them.”

Rescue Mission of Trenton CEO Mary Gay Abbott-Young added, “We are so thankful to be in this together with the compassionate, generous leaders at Princeton University, and we look forward to collaborating together in the future.”