When the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) closed its main dining room and suspended programs in March to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, TASK staffers contemplated next steps, and most importantly considered how to keep people fed. With combined contributions surpassing $100,000, Bank of America, BlackRock, Inc. and the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation supplied funding without restrictions that covered everything from food purchases to maintaining staff levels while helping TASK be there when the community needed it most.
“TASK does a lot of great work and continues to do whatever we can during this crisis,” said TASK Executive Director Joyce E. Campbell. “But that important work would be in jeopardy without certain basics, like our dedicated staff. This flexible funding made the difference in the diverse avenues TASK took to meet the immediate and constantly emerging needs of the community. We are incredibly grateful for this generosity that allows us to evolve and adapt in this climate.”
Since the pandemic began to affect the region, TASK has increased production by about 90 percent, serving 250,000 meals in a span of seven months. Normally, by this time,130,000 meals were served. Pre-pandemic, more than 30,000 people in Mercer County faced food insecurity every day, lacking regular access to food, according to Feeding America, the largest U.S.-based hunger-relief, advocacy and education organization. That number could increase by about 50 percent if unemployment – a major driver of food insecurity – continues to rise, says Feeding America. As of last month, the unemployment rate in Mercer County rose to 12 percent up from 3 percent in March when the state began anti-pandemic measures, such as closing businesses. In that same time span, unemployment in Trenton rose from 5 percent to 15 percent, exacerbating the 28.4 percent poverty rate – the county’s highest, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These major economic shifts forced hunger to rise in communities already susceptible to food insecurity and introduced TASK’s services to a new contingent that never needed a soup kitchen before. Meanwhile, TASK and other non-profits, had to move with urgency to meet the rising demand for food and other services.
While food is first at TASK, the pandemic also compelled the soup kitchen to amend its programming and other non-food services. As staff was repositioned and additional kitchen equipment was purchased to help prepare higher volumes of food, case management and the Adult Education and Work Preparedness program teams sought solutions to keep patrons connected to the vital services. Additionally, TASK needed to supply required masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE) to help patrons maintain their health and safety. Because of a charitable spirit that generously grew as the pandemic decimated communities, Bank of America, BlackRock, Inc., and the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation helped TASK move quickly and efficiently while demonstrating their commitment to put people first.
“No one should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, which is why addressing the increased food insecurity in our communities at this time is top of mind for Bank of America,” said Alberto Garofalo, New Jersey market president for Bank of America which has committed $100 million in philanthropic grants with an immediate focus on health and humanitarian needs, such as food insecurity. “As the fight to end hunger continues, it is imperative that we support Trenton Area Soup Kitchen’s tireless work to provide hunger relief and other critical services to our neighbors in Trenton.”
Providing an overall $18 million at the onset of the pandemic, BlackRock, Inc. committed to bridging the gap left when volunteer bases dwindled, and retail donations slowed nationwide at food banks and soup kitchens as the pandemic continued. More specifically, the company provided $2 million to help fund food banks where BlackRock employees volunteer, live and work
The Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation along with the company Bristol Myers Squibb has contributed more than $31 million in financial support and other products, focusing on the areas with the greatest unmet need in the most vulnerable communities.
“During this global pandemic, it is critically important that community partners come together to support our neighbors in need,” said John Damonti, president of the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundations. “Bristol Myers Squibb and the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation are proud to be long-term partners of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, whose mission it is to feed those who are hungry in the Trenton area. Their expertise and ability to coordinate the resources of their community partners is vital to supporting those in need. We appreciate all their great work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a cloud of hurt over entire communities in such rapid fashion that no one entity can fight it off on its own. Thanks to partnerships that truly demonstrate that “we are all in this together,” as the saying goes, TASK hasn’t missed a beat in meeting its mission to feed people in need while inspiring all to pursue a self-sufficient life.