Project Self-Sufficiency was recently awarded funding to purchase and outfit a refrigerated vehicle to transport fresh and packaged food to far-flung portions of its service areas where residents may not have easy access to personal vehicles or public transportation. Grants were received from the Post Foundation and the Ellman Discovery Foundation. Funding has been used to purchase and refrigerate a vehicle and initiate a food rescue program throughout Sussex and Northern Warren Counties as well as Portland, Pennsylvania. The mobile unit will travel a set schedule picking up usable food from grocers, schools and other venues and make it available to residents in need. The program expands on the food rescue program currently in place in the Helen Morgan and Mohawk Avenue Schools in Sparta, as well as the agency’s nine community gardens and PSS Journey, the agency’s mobile services vehicle.
The food rescue program in the Sparta school district was modeled on the popular K-12 Food Rescue program developed by John Williamson in 2007. To date, over 200 restaurants and 700 schools have signed on to participate in food rescue programs, redirecting unwanted, unpeeled and unwrapped foods to social service agencies for distribution to individuals in need. Sparta resident Sari Biondo brought the idea to the Sparta school district, and with the help of faculty member Morgan Bleakley, the program was kicked off in the Helen Morgan School. It has since taken root at the Mohawk Avenue School, as well. Students take turns manning a station in the cafeteria to collect a variety of fresh and packaged foods; the items are delivered to Project Self-Sufficiency on a regular basis.
“This is food that otherwise would have been thrown away,” explains Biondo. “As long as it is unwrapped, unopened or unpeeled, it is eligible for redistribution to a food pantry.” The program is run entirely by students. “The children are helping others and reducing their carbon footprint. I know that it’s something they are proud of and enjoy doing.”
With this new refrigerated vehicle, organizers hope to expand the program to include more schools, as well as grocers and restaurants, and deliver the items to food pantries throughout the area.
Project Self-Sufficiency has initiated a contest to name the new refrigerated vehicle. The winner will receive two tickets to the agency’s May 4th fundraiser, A Taste of Talent, which will be held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds Conservatory. To submit a name for Project Self-Sufficiency’s refrigerated vehicle, visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org and click on “Name the PSS Refrigerated Vehicle”. The naming contest will run from February 1st – March 1s; the winner will be notified by phone.
“This innovative means of providing access to fresh food stems from a challenge which has long plagued the lower-income residents of our area of the state who do not have access to a vehicle or the means to purchase nutritious food for themselves or their families,” explains Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “This new addition to our array of services will allow us to collect fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and prepared meals from area supermarkets, schools and other venues at the point when they are no longer sellable but are still safe for consumption. Food will then be transported for immediate distribution to a network of food pantries, including the Project Self-Sufficiency Food Pantry and onboard PSS Journey. This new initiative will allow us to help feed families in place and reduce food waste."
The Project Self-Sufficiency vehicle will travel a rotating schedule through Sussex and Northern Warren Counties, as well as Portland, Pennsylvania. “Through our work with vulnerable northwestern New Jersey families, we have seen how hunger and transportation issues can impede a family's progress and prolong the cycle of poverty. In our rural community, it is not just the inability to afford groceries that leads to food insecurity, but lack of transportation to access food that is available,” adds Berry-Toon.
Project Self-Sufficiency has provided services to families in the New Jersey counties of Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon for more than 30 years. Programs include career guidance, computer training, help with obtaining a high school diploma, parenting skills classes, legal assistance and education, financial workshops, health education, childcare and family activities. The agency offers help around the holidays, formal dresses during prom season, and assistance with emergency basic needs, such as food and clothing to its participants. Services are free and many are open to the public. Those who are interested in learning more about the programs offered at Project Self-Sufficiency, are encouraged to call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org.