Princeton University establishes Summer Food and Nutrition Program to address pandemic-related food insecurity in Mercer County

To address food insecurity in local communities this summer due to the pandemic, Princeton University’s Campus Dining, Office of Community and Regional Affairs and John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement have established the Summer Food and Nutrition Program. The initiative will include collaborations with the Princeton Public Schools and three area nonprofits to provide meals for at-risk families, children and individuals.

The Summer Food and Nutrition Program will run for six weeks from July 7 through Aug. 16. The program will offer continuity of employment, including health benefits, to Campus Dining employees who normally work for nine months a year. This team will procure, prepare and package approximately 9,500 meals a week to be distributed to an estimated 1,800-2,000 people in surrounding communities.

The University has longstanding relationships with the partner organizations: Princeton Public Schools, HomeFront, the Rescue Mission of Trenton and Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. The community reach of these nonprofits includes children, families, veterans, homeless individuals and families, people living in shelter, living alone, and living at and below the poverty line. The geographic reach spans Mercer County — including Princeton, the Route 1 corridor closest to Princeton, Trenton, Lawrence, East Windsor, West Windsor and Hightstown.

“The food we prepare will be serving toddlers at HomeFront to seniors in their 90s through Meals on Wheels,” said Smitha Haneef, assistant vice president of Campus Dining, University Services. “This is a highly diverse population in and around Princeton. As I have spoken to each community organization, it has been an extremely humbling experience that we are going to partner with them to serve people in need in the area with healthy, nutritious, freshly prepared meals. I also want to acknowledge the generosity of the University to launch this program.”

Haneef also acknowledged the important role of the Office of Human Resources in the planning and coordination of this new initiative.

The Campus Dining team has started the planning process — writing globally diverse, healthy, nutritious menus; placing food orders; and preparing for packaging options. They are also developing simple homestyle recipes that are healthy and nutritionally dense for families to prepare at home; the recipes will be available on the Campus Dining website.

Princeton Public Schools
The Princeton Public School district has 500 students on its free/reduced price lunch program. Once the district moved to remote teaching this spring, they continued offering breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and though a collaboration with Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP) extended those offerings to include weekend breakfast and lunch and three family dinners per week. School bus drivers have been delivering the meals via front porch drops and distribution sites.

In April, the University announced a $25,000 contribution to support SHUPP’s early efforts to support students in the Princeton Public Schools during the pandemic.

As part of the University’s new Summer Food and Nutrition Program, Campus Dining will prepare and package the three-per-week family meals, and the weekend breakfasts and lunches. The district will continue breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. These efforts will enable SHUPP to also provide children with a bag of fresh produce once a week for their families. School district bus drivers will continue to deliver the meals using front porch drops and distribution sites.

Started by volunteers providing meals for families living in motels, HomeFront has since developed a holistic array of services for clients who are either homeless or at high risk of becoming so. While running programs to lessen the immediate pain of homelessness and help families become self-sufficient, HomeFront is a leading organization in ending homelessness in central New Jersey.

The Summer Food and Nutrition Program will provide meals that HomeFront delivers to homeless individuals and families living in motel rooms on Route 1, and an additional 200 meals a week for the mothers and toddlers currently living on the HomeFront campus in Lawrence as they work toward independence.

Rescue Mission of Trenton
For more than a century, the Rescue Mission of Trenton’s shelter has been providing a safe haven for those with nowhere else to turn. Historically, it has been a place where anyone can come in off the streets, get cleaned up, have a hot meal and find a warm bed to sleep for the night. The shelter has become a gateway to a more comprehensive, long-term solution to end homelessness.

The Summer Food and Nutrition Program will provide lunch and dinner — about 2,500 meals per week — for those who are in recovery and treatment, and those who are homeless and living at the Rescue Mission of Trenton..

Meals on Wheels of Mercer County
Typically, Meals on Wheels programs only serve homebound seniors who are over 60 in their communities. Meals on Wheels of Mercer County also serves a growing population of those under 60, who find themselves unable to cook or shop due to the onset of a debilitating disease or another life-changing situation. These tend to be the “invisible” food-insecure people living amongst us.

The Summer Food and Nutrition Program will be providing 540 meals a week that Meals on Wheels of Mercer County delivers to homebound individuals living in communities including Princeton, East Windsor, West Windsor and Hightstown.

University relief efforts include PPE donations, blood drives, volunteer opportunities
In addition to the Summer Food and Nutrition Program and the Princeton University Relief Fund, the University has been providing relief efforts to the local community in numerous ways since the beginning of the pandemic. These include, but are not limited to:

Donation of personal protective equipment. Over the past three months, the University has been identifying and delivering personal protection equipment (PPE) — including gloves, masks, respirators, surgical gowns and other items — from labs and other sources on campus to support emergency services in Mercer County, the Municipality of Princeton, and West Windsor Township.
Volunteering in the community. Faculty and staff are offering their time as volunteers through the University’s Special Activities and Resources Group (SARG), which matches appropriate volunteers with relevant projects.
Blood drives. In partnership with the American Red Cross, the University held a series of community blood drives in April and May. More than 200 people made donations over five days. The total collected was 219 productive units, which will provide for up to 657 hospital patients. Appropriate safety and social distancing guidelines were followed. A summer blood drive will be held on July 7. For more information visit the American Red Cross website.
Addressing food insecurity. In addition to the University’s $25,000 contribution to Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP) to support the nonprofit group’s collaboration with the Princeton Public Schools, the University also donated 15 mini-fridges to the Princeton Public Schools and SHUPP to provide to families in Princeton in need of additional refrigeration for the family meals that are being distributed. Campus Dining has donated a range of perishable and nonperishable food items — from liquid eggs to basmati rice and granola — to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Arm in Arm.