November 9, 2022

SHUPP Continues Fight Against Hunger, Expanding Its Projects in Princeton

COMMUNITY ACTION: About 35 entering Princeton University students worked on a variety of food-packing, rock-painting, and quilt-making community service activities in a collaboration this fall between Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP) and the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement. “They all got engaged,” said SHUPP Founder and President Ross Wishnick. (Photo courtesy of SHUPP)

By Donald Gilpin

Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP), founded about 10 years ago, grew gradually during its first years in operation, expanded its services rapidly with the onset of COVID-19, and has continued to grow steadily over the past three years.

“The last few years have been transformative and quite a game changer for Send Hunger Packing Princeton,” said SHUPP Founder, President, and Board Chair Ross Wishnick. “There are kids in the Princeton school system who are hungry, close to 15 percent of Princeton Public School children. Out of about 3,500, there are 450 to 500 kids who are food insecure. We’re Princeton. We’re not supposed to have that problem.”

Starting out as a part of Mercer Street Friends (MSF) Food Bank, SHUPP continues to work with MSF and through Princeton Human Services collaborates with several other local community service groups. About six years ago SHUPP became an independent, official 501c(3) nonprofit organization.

“Then, when COVID started, everything changed,” said Wishnick. “SHUPP got the call from the then superintendent of schools.” The school busses, instead of transporting students, were delivering food to students and families in need. The district is mandated by law to provide breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday, for qualifying students, and the superintendent wondered if SHUPP could take care of dinners Monday through Friday and all meals on the weekends.

“We said, ‘Yes,’ and that’s what happened,” said Wishnick. “We bought from their commissary. We packaged a lot of food, and we delivered. Tables were set up at different spots and people came to pick up their food, a lot of food.” Later, as other organizations joined in, SHUPP was able to gradually scale down.
The collaboration with PPS continues, but recently SHUPP has been delivering healthier fresh produce, rather than just stable prepackaged food. Every week a truck drives to the Philadelphia Farm Market and returns with produce, which it delivers to the schools.

The Princeton Free Pantry Project is another SHUPP initiative that is developing rapidly. Located around town — at the YWCA, Tortuga’s, the Witherspoon Municipal Building, and Redding Circle — are four outdoor pantries stocked with shelf-stable food available to anyone who has a need. They are homemade structures that look like kitchen cabinets on stands with cabinet doors.

The theme is “Take What You Need. Leave What You Can,” Wishnick explained. “People can reach in 24/7 and take whatever they need. People are always leaving stuff, and we check on the pantries and refill periodically.”

Started about three years ago and now located at different sites around town are 10 free gardens as part of SHUPP’s Princeton Free Garden project. Built, planted, and maintained by SHUPP volunteers, the gardens provide produce free for the taking. “Our purpose is to get the gardens started, and we hope they are there for people to use as they want — no costs, no constraints,” said Wishnick. “They can grow tomatoes, peppers, squash.”

In a new SHUPP collaboration with PPS there will be four new handicap-accessible raised garden beds at Princeton High School. The materials will be provided by SHUPP, and the students will do the construction; fill the beds with the provided soil; and plant, maintain, and nurture the gardens as part of this learning initiative.

SHUPP has also purchased two hydroponic gardens for Littlebrook Elementary School and the YWCA to supply food and also to help children learn about food insecurity and giving.

“SHUPP continues to host food-packing events throughout the town to spread awareness around the issue of food insecurity,” said Wishnick. “Kicking off this year’s events was SHUPP’s longstanding cooperation with Princeton University’s freshman orientation — hosting food-packing, rock-painting, and quilt-painting activities in the YWCA parking lot and in their new gazebo.”

He continued, “It was a great event with about 35 entering freshmen. Their eyes were opened to the fact that ‘Oh, my goodness, we thought we were moving to Shangri-La, but it’s a regular town. There is food insecurity here too.’”

In partnership with the Princeton Public Library, SHUPP recently continued a long tradition of sponsoring a food-packing event at Hinds Plaza following the library’s Children’s Book Festival. Among other SHUPP activities have been a food-packing event at the Princeton University football stadium during a recent football game and another food-packing event held with Otsuka Pharmaceutical as part of their community service engagement.

Wishnick reflected on the growth of SHUPP, along with the proliferation of other organizations helping to address the challenges of food insecurity. “We should all be interested in helping our neighbors,” he said.