MADISON, NJ - Rotary District 7475, the Madison Rotary Club and Foundation and numerous other Rotary Clubs organized its fourth annual End Hunger event on Saturday, March 9. The goal was to package 250,000 meals for distribution to 40 sites in the area, including MENDNJ, Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, Bloomfield Church on the Green Food Pantry, Vocationist Sisters of Florham Park, St. John’s Soup Kitchen, Family Promise, NORWESCAP, Bernardsville Food Pantry, Market Street Mission, Interfaith Food Pantry of Morristown, Homeless Solutions, Table of Hope/Bethel Church, Community Soup Kitchen, Rutgers Student Food Pantry, Drew Emergency Food Pantry, College of St. Elizabeth Emergency Food Pantry, FDU-Florham Emergency Food Pantry, St. John’s Episcopal Church Soup Kitchen at Trinity Lutheran Church, Soup Pantry at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Porch, Prima Pasa Day Care, Dover Senior Citizens, Community Center of Dover, Randolph Food Pantry, Rockaway Food Closet, Loaves and Fishes Community Food Pantry.

As stated by the Rotary Club “Hunger is a very real problem for many people in our community and we are dedicated to making a difference by distributing all of the meals locally.  130,000 meals were packaged in 2017, 160,000 were packaged in 2018 and we are excited about achieving the goal of 250,000 in 2019.” Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of malnutrition or starvation. In New York and New Jersey, one in five children relies on food stamps to provide daily meals.

Ellsworth Havens, the End Hunger program chairman stated “there are 1.2 million people in New Jersey who are ‘food insecure’, which means they do not know where their next meal is coming from.” He explains that this problem impacts education, work, health and all aspects of life.  The cost per meal is approximately 25 cents. A contribution of $10.00 equals 40 meals; $100.00 equals 400 meals, $1,000 equals 4,000 meals. Corporate Sponsors and major donors of the event were Investors Bank Foundation, Grace Episcopal Church, Grace Church Confirmation Class, TD Bank Foundation, the New Jersey Hills Media Group, Patricia Miller, Dell Technologies, Fulton Bank, Glen Ridge Congregational Church, Haralampoudis Family Fund, M & T Bank, Patrick Rowe, Television and Video Production Club of Madison High School, Woodland Tree & Landscape Company, the Rotary Clubs of Hanover, Madison, Montgomery-Rocky Hill, Morristown, Pequannock, the Caldwells, Skylands, Bernardsville, Blairstown, Dover, Livingston, Phillipsburg, Montclair, Newark, Rockaway, Summit-New Providence, Union, and Westfield, and Rotary District 7475. Rotary District 7475 is comprised of 87 Clubs located in New Jersey and serving the counties of Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren

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Four years ago, the first End Hunger event took place at St. Vincent’s Church and involved 200 volunteers who packaged 53,000 meals. In the second year, the event moved to Drew University and 18 other rotary clubs joined the effort and 500 volunteers were involved. In the third year, 800 volunteers participated. On Saturday approximately 900 volunteers joined in at Drew’s Forum Center. There will be a second End Hunger event at RVC College in Branchburg on March 30 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. The goal there will be to package 150,000 meals.

Among the food packaged were rice and beans, pasta with tomato, rice, macaroni and cheese, and oatmeal. The food is purchased from third-party wholesalers. The food was placed in packages, each containing six meals. The volunteers worked in two shifts throughout the day, each shift packaging approximately 100,000 meals. They occupied tables of 12-13 volunteers each. There were many repeat volunteers from year-to-year who bring friends and families to participate. As Ellsworth Havens stated “watching hundreds of people working together and then leaving happy shows how communities can get together to solve problems.”

Volunteers at Drew’s Forum Center were registered and given hair nets and gloves. They were assigned to tables where the food to be packaged awaited them. Many of the volunteers were members of sports teams, corporate sponsors, staffs of recipient agencies, and members of the various participating Rotary Clubs. Several wore team tee shirts with messages promoting the mission to end hunger.  The Madison High School Lacrosse team volunteered in force with their four coaches. Assistant Coach Christina Lanzilotta stated “We wanted to do a senior event to give back to Madison and we even got to work out beforehand.” There was a large group of volunteers from M& T Bank, a corporate sponsor. Frank Cesaro, a vice president and senior branch manager of M & T Bank, explained that this was the second year the bank was involved as a sponsor and he sees the event as a “great way to bring the community together for a great cause.”  Thalia Garzon, Volunteer Coordinator of the Market Street Mission, a recipient, stated that she was taking eight packaged boxes to the mission, which provides 230 meals each day. Three nuns from the Vocationist Sisters of Florham Park, another recipient, participated in the efforts. The D.J. for the event was Michael Savage, whose family runs the ministry soup kitchen every third Saturday at St. John’s Church in Newark.

Jeannie Tsukamoto, Assistant Governor, District 7475 Membership Chair, and Rotary Means Business Chair enthused “Rotarians are community leaders who get together on a regular basis to network, discuss the needs of our communities and take action to make positive changes here and around the world.” President of the Madison Rotary Club, Michel Belt, explained that the End Hunger project was motivated by the knowledge that even in wealthy areas such as Morris County people are going hungry. He stated that this effort represents both a drive to raise money and a hands-on component of packaging food. “It is an ideal combination of writing checks and distributing food.” The Madison Rotary Club devised the concept and ran it for the first few years. Last year, Belt explained, the project became a district-wide endeavor. Madison Mayor Robert Conley, who appeared in hair net and gloves as a volunteer, enthused that “the show of volunteerism here shows a sense of community in Madison. The fact that all the meals go to residents of New Jersey emphasizes the need to take care of the people in our own backyards.”