Kids Eating

There is a place where people wake up hungry in the morning and go to bed hungry at night. These people are our neighbors. The place they live is called Trenton.

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History of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

Prologue

As the decade of the 1980s began, soup kitchens had been out of sight and out of mind in the United States for more than 40 years. Associated with the period of the Great Depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash, there was no reason, as far as the average citizen was concerned, to think that they would ever be a common sight again. Not only was it generally assumed that laws and regulations instituted in the wake of the depression forestalled another economic collapse of such severity, but also that programs set in place to ensure adequate diets for all citizens, including school mid-dayeon and food stamp programs, meant that the specter of hunger in this rich nation was effectively exorcised.

The reality, however, was that there were people living in towns and cities across the land who did not have enough to eat, many of them during the last few days of each month, when pay or welfare checks ran out, and some of them for long stretches of time. In 1981, a book by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel, entitled Starving in the Shadow of Plenty, shocked readers with its first-hand account of visits with men and women of remarkably diverse backgrounds in cities, including her own city of Philadelphia, who were reduced to poverty and near-starvation.

While soup kitchens, food pantries and food banks existed in the U. S. prior to 1980, they were generally small in size and relatively few in number, according to Janet Poppendieck.

Then, in the early 1980s, a series of factors converged to bring about a sudden, dramatic expansion of private charitable food programs. A sharp recession -- widely regarded as the deepest since the Great Depression -- arrived to accelerate a long-term trend towards increasing unemployment and decreased job security. This destruction of livelihoods coincided with steep cutbacks in federal social spending which aggravated a long-time decline in the purchasing power of public assistance. Homeless people became visible in many of the nation’s cities, and the “New Poor” turned to their churches and union locals for help.

1982-1985

The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) opened its doors to the hungry in Trenton in January 1982. Responsible for its creation was a small band of individuals led by Reverend Arthur L. Stanley. Some represented local churches and others various social service organizations, but all shared a conviction that there were people going hungry in Trenton and something had to be done about it. After several months of planning, spearheaded by Art Stanley, they established TASK as a corporation whose stated purpose was “to feed the truly needy people of Trenton five days a week without cost to the individual in need.” The corporation’s initial slate of officers was: Chair, Reverend John Nelson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church; Vice Chair, Terese Vogel, Director of Day Care Services; Secretary, Barbara Stanley; and Treasurer, Judith Eastmead of We Incorporated.

The board, with the help of TASK’s first director, Alice Parker, initially focused its attention on the crucial question of a suitable site for the soup kitchen. The first site chosen was the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church on Perry Street. The Church was willing, but it lacked adequate facilities and could not meet the code requirements needed to feed large numbers of people on a daily basis. The First United Methodist Church was approached next. It agreed to house the soup kitchen, despite the disruptions and inconvenience involved, and all the necessary arrangements were made.

Opening day for the soup kitchen was January 13, 1982. Volunteers came on duty at 11:00 a.m.; at 1:00 p.m. the doors were opened, and they remained open for two hours. Sixty people showed up. They were served turkey soup and crackers, a peanut butter sandwich, jello and either coffee or a fruit drink.

Three weeks later Alice Parker submitted her first report. A total of 964 people had been served so far: 619 adults, 370 seniors, and 5 children. Twenty were served on the quietest day and 92 on the busiest day. By the end of 1982, more than 40,000 mid-dayes had been served, plus a feast at Thanksgiving and a sumptuous Christmas dinner.

Then, as now, the soup kitchen depended on volunteers to help prepare and serve the meals and to serve as officers, board members and committee members. The soup kitchen also depended, then as well as now, on voluntary contributions of money. The willingness of people to contribute their time, talent and money to the soup kitchen was evidence from the start that many in the community supported this work.

In the eyes of others, however, the soup kitchen was an unwelcome presence. The proprietors of some businesses in the area surrounding the First United Methodist Church in the Trenton Commons were concerned that they were losing customers; some city planners and real estate developers saw the soup kitchen standing in the way of progress; and some of the members of the First Methodist Church became convinced, for a variety of reasons, that the soup kitchen had worn out its welcome. In 1985, the Church served notice to the officers of TASK that the soup kitchen could no longer use its space and facilities.

1986-1991

During the spring of 1986, TASK was forced to move from one temporary location to another, while all the time seeking a permanent site. Despite these difficulties, meals continued to be served, although in some cases they were simply sandwiches from church parking lots.

Finally, the Salvation Army allowed TASK to operate the soup kitchen out of its building located on East State Street. Thanks to their generosity, an initial six-month lease became a five-year stay.

Then in 1987, the City of Trenton made an offer that TASK couldn’t refuse. The City agreed to lease land on Escher Street, behind the main police station and adjacent to the City Animal Shelter, for $1 per year for the next 40 years. The lease arrangement allowed TASK to build a "congregated feeding and related social services facility" on the site “to service the material and social needs of the disadvantaged inhabitants of the City of Trenton.”

An ambitious fundraising effort was mounted over the next four years. Through the generosity of 14 foundations; the Mercer County government; 65 area companies; numerous groups, organizations, labor unions, churches and synagogues; and more than 2,500 individuals, over $600,000 was raised, enough to build TASK’s first permanent home. On July 22, 1991, 337 hungry men, women, and children ate their first meal in the Soup Kitchen’s new Escher Street home. At the dedication ceremony for the Gilman-Stanley Building (named in honor of Edward Gilman, the driving force behind the construction, and Art Stanley, who spearheaded the birth of TASK), the then president of the TASK Board of Trustees, Steve Leder, Esquire, characterized the effort to construct TASK’s first permanent home as a “triumph of community.”

The air-conditioned, 6,000 square-foot, one story pre-engineered building, contains a large central seating area, a fully-equipped kitchen, a small storage area, and three small “outreach” rooms for use by agencies that serve the health and human care needs of TASK’s clients. One of the rooms was named in honor of Dr. David A. Fluck, a long-time member of TASK’s board and a dedicated volunteer to many worthy community causes.

Pictures from 1991 are here.

1992-1999

TASK’s initial objective “to feed the truly needy people of Trenton five days a week without cost to the individuals in need” has been expanded. Today, its mission is “to respond to the needs of hungry people in the Trenton community by: (1) providing meals to all those who are hungry as a primary mission; (2) providing services to enable them to achieve self-sufficiency; (3) informing the wider community of the needs of the hungry; and (4) advocating for resources to meet those needs.”

Consistent with this expanded mission, TASK implemented an Adult Education Program in 1992. This program provides tutoring in basic literacy, math, preparation for the high school equivalency exam (GED), and basic computer skills. It is specifically designed to be help students who have experienced failure in past academic endeavors. Today, some 40 volunteer tutors work on a one-to-one basis with 70 academic students and 16 computer students under the supervision of TASK’s Adult Education Coordinator.

On July 7, 1993, TASK began offering dinners on Wednesday nights in addition to its regular Monday though Friday mid-daytime meals. This was subsequently expanded to include Monday through Thursday evenings (Tuesday night was subsequently eliminated in a budget tightening move). In 2003, 152,720 evening meals were served.

On October 17, 1995, TASK dedicated a 1,200 square foot cinderblock addition to its building. Named “ Virginia’s Pantry” in honor of long-time board member Virginia Link, it provided badly needed additional storage space.

Beginning in the 1990s, TASK has encouraged and fostered the development of the A-TEAM Artists of Trenton, a patron artist cooperative that sells client art through various local venues.

TASK has also continued to make its facility available to a wide range of nonprofit agencies, which provide various medical and social services, including drug and alcohol counseling, job counseling, health screening, and legal services, to help TASK’s patrons get their lives back on track.

TASK stages periodic forums to inform the wider community of the needs of the hungry and to advocate for resources to meet those needs.

2000-the present

On May, 28, 2002, TASK added an Intensive Case Manager to its on-site staff to provide a full range of social work services for our patrons. The Intensive Case Manager is available to assist with immediate needs and crises that TASK patrons present and also to develop long-term relationships with selected patrons in the hope that it may lead to greater self-sufficiency. The Case Manager, an employee of Catholic Charities, was retained through a competitively bid process, consistent with TASK’s philosophy of seeking out existing community resources and expertise whenever possible, rather than expanding for the sake of expanding.

Beginning on January 8, 2003, TASK began preparing and transporting hot meals on Wednesday nights to the newly established South Trenton Soup Kitchen (STSK). TASK is the lead agency for this project, which is seeking to alleviate hunger among the population of Trenton’s largely Hispanic South Ward. Much of the South Ward is located more than two miles from TASK, making TASK largely inaccessible to residents of this area, especially during the winter months. There are very few food programs operating in the South Ward. The only on-site feeding programs are offered on Sundays at the Sacred Heart and St. Francis Churches.

The STSK is a collaboration among TASK, the First Baptist Church of the City of Trenton and El Centro de Recursos para Familias, a program of Catholic Charities. Initially, meals were served only on Wednesday nights. On July 10th, we began serving on Thursday nights and on January 5th, we served our first Monday night meal. During 2003, 5,048 meals were served at the South Trenton Soup Kitchen.

There would be no Soup Kitchen without our dedicated staff and volunteers. From the beginning, TASK has relied on their generosity to serve meals, clean-up afterwards and provide many, many other services. More than 350 volunteers come each year from faith-based groups, area businesses, civic organizations and schools and colleges, or on an individual basis to TASK’s Escher Street location and more recently to the First Baptist Church home of the South Trenton Soup Kitchen. New Realities

Just as a confluence of factors caused a dramatic increase in the ranks of the hungry in the early 1980s, a similar convergence of factors is causing an even more dramatic increase in the ranks of the hungry today. Thirty-six million US citizens now live in a state of “food insecurity” or actual starvation. Nationally, food relief organizations have found that as many as 1 in 10 Americans have relied on soup kitchen and emergency food centers in order to eat. The New York Times recently reported that “As unemployment in New Jersey reached a six-year high, hunger relief groups recorded a 17 percent increase statewide in the number of people who seek food assistance.”

According to Peter Wise, TASK’s Director since 1998, “As a result of the flagging economy and job layoffs, demand for our services has just skyrocketed. This past year we served more than 157,000 meals.” He calls the number of people coming to TASK “staggering.” He adds, “We are seeing many more folks coming to TASK on their mid-day break. People are doing anything they can to make ends meet. Too many folks do not have enough money left after paying their rent to eat.”

The dramatic increase in the demand for TASK services has severely overtaxed our operating budget and our facility, which was built in 1991 when TASK was preparing approximately half the meals we are currently preparing. In order to meet the tremendous increase in demand for our services, we desperately needed to upgrade and expand our kitchen, add storage space, and reconfigure existing space to create much needed office space.

With this in mind, in March of last year, TASK launched a $500,000 Capital Campaign to add a 2,613 square foot addition to TASK’s Escher Street facility. The new addition will be built largely on land that TASK leases from the City of Trenton for $1 per year. An adjacent property is has agreed to donate a small parcel of land on which some additional parking spaces will be constructed.

Over the past year, TASK has been planning for the building expansion. We have completed the design phase of the project, finished the detailed drawings and specifications and secured Trenton Planning Board approval. We hope to break ground in the very near future.

The Capital Campaign was tremendously aided by a very generous $100,000 Challenge Grant from an area businessman, Mitch Leon, CEO, DesignWrite, who agreed to provide one dollar for every two dollars TASK was able to raise between March 15, 2002 and September 15, 2002, up to $100,000. We are very pleased to report that TASK met the challenge by raising $215,560 during this period through a direct mail appeal to TASK’s individual and corporate donor base, an insert in 50,000 area newspapers and various public service announcements in The Times. An additional $______ has been generated since September 15, 2002 (including a $20,000 grant from the Bunbury Company, a Pennington-based foundation).

This brings to $_______ the amount generated to date. An additional _______ must be raised to construct the addition and the parking lot ($500,000 for building and $40,000 for parking).

On April 24, 2004, TASK celebrated its history with its first ever major event -- Keeping the Bowl Full: Twenty Years of Serving. The event proceeds, thanks to the Educational Testing Service’s generosity in underwriting all of the costs of our event, have helped us meet the tremendous increase in demand for various services provided by TASK to the truly needy of Trenton.

A number of individuals currently involved with TASK were there at the agency’s inception. TASK has grown much bigger and become more diversified than any of them expected. This is both bad and good. It is bad that the needs and number of needy has grown. It is good that we live in community that has generously responded to those needs. We still hope that some day TASK is no longer needed, but we remain steadfastly committed to “Keeping the Bowl Full” as long as the need exists.

Directors:

  • 1982 - Alice Parker
  • 1984 - Beverly Mills, Crystal Smith, Patricia Dorsey
  • 1991 - Pierina Thayer
  • 1998 - Cathy Ann Vandegrift
  • 1998 - Peter Wise

Board Chairs:

  • Rev. John Nelson
  • Barbara Stanley
  • Rev. Robert Smith
  • Terese Nelson
  • Rev. Cynthia Krommes
  • Edward Gilman
  • Steve Leder
  • John Kelly
  • David Gibbons
  • Peter Haas, Jr.
  • Senu Srinivasan
  • Lee Seglem

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In Plain Sight: The Story of TASK

By LEE SEGLEM, Member of TASK Board of Trustees

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TASK Cookbook

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