It is 6AM in the morning, and TASK’s kitchen staff has already begun preparing meals to be distributed at TASK and other locations across the city. It is a routine they have had for years, but over the past few months it has been more intense.
Currently, TASK is serving nearly 2,000 meals each day – this represents a 70% increase from prior year. Over the past few weeks, we have received several questions from volunteer and donors specifically asking “how is TASK able to keep up with the increased demand for meals?”
It’s thanks to “Betsy”, a 500-pound machine sitting in the middle of TASK’s kitchen (pictured above).
In March, when COVID-19 became critical in New Jersey, TASK consolidated services and adjusted its meal procedures in anticipation of increased demand for its meals. This included closing the dining room and serving meals “to-go” style out of our front doors, suspending volunteer activities, repositioning staff to help prepare meals, and purchasing a packaging system to increase capacity by preparing meals for delivery, pretty much just as fast as our staff and volunteers can cook them.
“Meet Betsy”, laughed Lisa Horton, TASK Cook who recently named the Oliver Packaging System. “It took us a little while to get used to her, but we got the hang of it now.”
“Betsy” was purchased with a grant from the NJ Pandemic Relief Fund. A fund launched by Tammy Murphy, NJ First Lady to support vulnerable families in communities hit the hardest by spread of COVID-19. In addition to providing funding for the Oliver Packaging Machine (which will also help TASK save money over the long term) the funding also supports kitchen equipment and additional staff time to meet the need for food in our community. Now all of the soup kitchen meals are cooked and prepared in our kitchen then sealed (airtight). After meals are packaged, staff and partners drop off meals to residents and/or serve out the doors of their building “to-go style”.
“When we suspended volunteer activities and then watched our meal counts grow from serving 1,200 meals a day to serving almost 2,000 a day – pretty much overnight, it was a hard to keep pace. ” stated Paul Jensen, Manager of Kitchen and Food Services. “We had to rethink our procedures, equipment, we had to prepare for the unknown…”
TASK didn’t have to look far for a solution.
In 2018, TASK purchased a manual heat press (pictured right) to improve its delivery procedure to a network of 16 satellite meal partners throughout Mercer County. TASK would prepare and cook the food in its kitchen and then use volunteer help to portion the food to trays. After the trays were filled they would be place into the heat press and sealed manually and prepared for delivery.
The process ensured meal quality and provided safe and sanitary travel. Today we still address these two key concerns, but “Betsy” helps us do it faster!
“Having an established and already proven meal delivery method played a major role in our response and ability to address new areas within the City of Trenton that have expressed a need for food,” added Joyce Campbell, TASK Executive Director. “The simple adjustment nearly doubled our production, but the Kitchen Staff are really the stars of the show – their flexibility and commitment to our mission is inspiring.”
To date, “Betsy” (TASK’s Meal packaging machine), has packaged nearly 120,000 meals since its arrival – approximately 1,700 meals each day. Of these meals, more than 45,000 meals were served from TASK’s main facility, 25,000 meals were delivered to 16 locations throughout Mercer County and nearly 45,000 meals were served through new partnerships with the City of Trenton and local nonprofits to deliver meals to homebound seniors, families with children and local residents who are Covid-19 positive and stay at the newly established Covid-19 Emergency shelter.
“I think we’re getting along just fine…” Joked Lisa. “She needs us just as much as we need her… we still gotta’ cook right!