Groups collaborate to raise hunger awareness

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EAST BRUNSWICK To provide guests with a free meal prepared by professional chefs, the “Come Dine Below the Line” event was established to promote hunger awareness.

Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services (MCFOODS) and Aldersgate United Methodist Church‘s Crisis Room Food Pantry hosted approximately 125 attendees on June 10 for a three-course meal made entirely out of food pantry staples in the church’s gymnasium.

To create and prepare the menu, Rutgers University Dining Services Chef Peter Blake partnered with MCFOODS Event Coordinator Douglas Wilson and others, according to a prepared statement from the Middlesex Improvement Authority (MCIA), which oversees MCFOODS.

Each course was made using only food pantry staples which included chicken, rice, ham, eggs, assorted vegetables, and canned and fresh fruit. Matzo, cous cous and olives were just a few stock items worked into the menu, according to Wilson.

Starting with a cocktail hour, guests enjoyed six different appetizers that included wrapped franks, pizza crisps, sweet potato puffs, assorted canapes, deviled eggs and vegetables with yogurt dip, according to information provided by MCFOODS.

For entrees, guests had arroz con pollo, grilled pineapple glazed Hawaiian ham, chicken provincial, cous cous medley and crispy salmon cakes. Attendees also were served a vegetable medley that included fire roasted peppers, Belgian baby carrots and greens and primavera pasta, according to information provided by MCFOODS.

To finish off the three course meal, guests enjoyed dessert that included apple bread pudding with topping, fruited gelatin with whipped cream and a cherry, and a layered individual cheesecake.

“Chef Peter Blake and Doug Wilson work together at the Rutgers University Brower Commons Dining Hall on College Avenue. Blake had indicated a desire and interest to support ‘feeding the people’ and welcomed the opportunity to give back to the community with his talents and time,” said Jennifer Apostol, MCFOODS coordinator.

The goal of the event was to give residents a better understanding of the issues surrounding hunger. Topics that were discussed included how food pantries can serve the community and the importance of providing locally grown produce to area pantries, according to a prepared statement.

The awareness dinner was conceived in 2016 at Christ Church in New Brunswick as a Rutgers intern project under Wilson, who was the former pantry director. Wilson is a Middlesex County College dietetic technology graduate, area caterer and resident. He spearheaded the event at Christ Church as part of the pantry mission of giving more than a bag of groceries and continues to be a driving force leading this program, according to Apostol.

“MCFOODS provided some support in the first year of the event. Interest developed in holding the event again and now that the event has taken [off], it will hopefully continue as an annual event hosted by a different Middlesex County MCFOODS network partner food pantry each year” Wilson said.

The event had about 25 volunteers with support from Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Nativity Lutheran Church, East Brunswick Jewish Center, New Life Food Pantry at St. George Church in Helmetta, Boy Scout Troops 132 and 322 of East Brunswick, Ron Lovely who provided the music for the evening, and Chefs Peter Blake and Jerry Roan from Rutgers University Dining Services, according to Apostol.

Several speakers spoke throughout the event to further inform guests about the problems that encompass hunger, including the Rev. Erica Munoz from Aldersgate United Methodist Church; Nancy Kevin, board president of the Crisis Room Food Pantry; Jim Giamarese, founder and board chair of Farmers Against Hunger and owner of Giamarese Farm; and Susan Stephenson-Martin, senior program coordinator for Central Jersey Region Middlesex SNAP-Ed /EFNEP RCE of Middlesex County, according to the prepared statement.

“I believe deeply that the work of the church’s Crisis Room and the partnership they have with MCFOODS is invaluable. I fully support any and all efforts to educate our community in the needs of its residents. It is not acceptable that there are people right here in East Brunswick that have little to nothing to eat every day or have no place to sleep at night, while so many of us have more than enough to share,” Munoz said. “The work of the Crisis Room is impacting that concern in providing food and clothing and assistance, when available, to our brothers and sisters. The work done and the partnership with MCFOODS is making a difference. I only wish we could do more, which is why I believe strongly in education, awareness and in involvement with as many supporters as possible.”

For more information about MCFOODS, visit www.mciauth.com or call 609-655-5141.

For more information about the Crisis Room Food Pantry, visit the pantry’s Facebook page or call Aldersgate United Methodist Church at 732-254-7361.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.