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So we packed up the Douglas Auto Group Van with 738 lbs of food collected at Douglas Infiniti as well as Douglas Volkswagen and headed out to the Community Food Bank of NJ in Hillside. I expected to pull up in front of a big old warehouse, drop off the donation, shake a hand and be on our way. When we arrived, I got to meet Tristan Wallack, the Food Sourcing Coordinator for the food bank. He started to chat with myself and the Douglas Auto Group Marketing Director Ken Beam. What he told us was both humbling and eye-opening. The Community Food Bank of NJ started with one woman handing out assorted foods from the back of her station wagon in Newark, NJ nearly 20 years ago. Today they operate out of the largest food bank facility in the United States. It is a 280,000 sq/ft facility that is formerly the home of Kraft Foods. It is equivalent in size to 7 football fields.
When Tristan started at the food bank in 2008, they were providing food for 500,000 residents of NJ. Today at the end of 2011, the food bank provides for over 900,000 residents of the state of NJ. This past year, they have distributed roughly 40 million pounds of food within NJ. However, if they stopped receiving food today, the shelves of the entire facility would be barren within 6-8 weeks. Right before Governor Christie was sworn into office, he visited the food bank. He was quite straightforward in stating that he couldn’t make any promises as he was elected to help balance the budget and every program was on the table for discussion. When all was said and done, the Community Food Bank of NJ was one of only 3 state programs that wasn’t cut by Governor Christie.
While their food contribution to the state is an amazing feat, it only encompasses a part of the picture about the Community Food Bank of NJ in Hillside. As Ken and I were getting a tour of facility, we were shown their culinary arts program. The students were people given second chances in life by the food bank. Most of them were still in halfway homes trying to get their life in order. They were all being trained by a professional chef and it was mandatory that they weren’t late to class more than 3 times or they were dismissed from the program. If a student makes it through the program, the food bank has a year to year average of a 75%-90% job placement success rate. The Community Food Bank of NJ also runs a program to supply free school supplies to low-income schools, a clothing store for low-income families composed of new clothes from department stores and a thrift shop.
Tristan pointed out that they get about 29,000 volunteers a year at their Hillside facility. Ken and myself cannot stress enough what an amazing experience it is to visit a place as inspiring as the Community Food Bank of NJ in Hillside. We strongly encourage everyone to volunteer some time there at some point in the near future. Typically the minimum age to volunteer is 12 years old. However, once every quarter they have a Family Day where everyone in your family can come down and volunteer. If you can’t make the time to volunteer at the food bank, please make sure to donate to their cause whenever possible. It is needed now more than ever. If you want to donate money or time to this food bank or any other charity, please first visit Charity Navigator, American’s leading independent charity evaluator. Have a Happy Holidays.