Send Hunger Packing Princeton gears up for its second annual “Friend-Raiser”

Ross Wishnick, chair of the Princeton Human Services Commission, reflected on a meeting held slightly more than one year ago. A number of community influencers were gathered to discuss the availability of resources to community members in need. As the groups, which included such organizations as the food bank and the crisis ministry at Nassau Presbyterian Church, “gathered intelligence,” as Wishnick explained, they came to a startling realization – 12 percent of Princeton’s school population receives free or reduced lunch. The social service term for children receiving free or reduced lunch is referred to as “food insecure.”

“Receiving free and reduced lunches for school happens Monday through Friday, but then what happens? These kids are food insecure during the week, so then what happens on Saturday and Sunday?” Wishnick asked.

He explained that the resulting initiative was to form a group to raise money and “fill the gap.” Working in partnership with the Princeton School Board, the two groups connected with non-profit food bank Mercer Street Friends.

“Coming together with these two organizations was the perfect match to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish,” Wishnick said.

At the time of the partnership, Mercer Street Friends already had a program called “Send Hunger Packing.” The program provided school children with a backpack to take home just before they leave on Fridays for the weekend. The backpack is filled with four supplemental, healthy meals for Saturday and Sunday. Wishnick explained that Send Hunger Packing Princeton’s vision was given a boost due to MSF’s well-established program.

Wishnick called the school system’s involvement “vital, because they are on the front lines.” Additionally, with SHUPP’s funds, the food bank provides two weeks-worth of food at a time that the school then picks up and delivers to the students who opt-in to the program. Last year, about 150 children from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade were signed up for the program, and SHUPP delivered nearly 6,000 packages of food throughout the school year.

“We don’t need to know the individual recipients. We just need to know this is getting done. We don’t have to do a study to know that if you go to school and you’re hungry, it is going to affect your ability to think and learn, and if you don’t have food over the weekend, you’re not going to be able to do your homework. Our mission is just to lighten the burden,” he said.

This year, Wishnick said the focus is to make the program sustainable. Having started on only Oct. 1 of last year, it is still in the development phase. Lead fundraising for the program came from Princeton University, the Bonner Foundation and the Princeton Theological Seminary. This year’s fundraising goal is $30,000. According to Wishnick, SHUPP’s goal of including sixth, seventh and eighth grade in the program will only be accomplished with about $50,000 per year.

On Sept. 14 at Community Park School, organizers will hold the second annual “Friend-Raiser.” Wishnick explained the concept of a “friend-raiser” as an attempt to raise awareness rather than strictly funds, because “fundraising goes on all year,” he said.

The Sept. 14 event will feature Philadelphia-based celebrity chef Brian Duffy, star of the television show “Bar Rescue.” Duffy will instruct attendees in using common leftover refrigerator food to make something affordable, nutritious and enjoyable.

Another one of Wishnick’s plans for the future? “We’d like to figure out how to feed children over longer vacations such as winter and summer break,” he said. “As my first real venture leading this type of thing, it has really been a remarkable experience in the generosity of the community.”

For more information, or to donate online, go to www.shupPrinceton.org.