EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ – They call her the “Mother Teresa” of East Brunswick, and if giving service to the poor and hungry for more than a quarter of a century meets the criteria, “they” could be right. Jennifer Apostal received a proclamation last week to honor her gift for giving. She is the Director of MCFOODS, Middlesex County’s Food Bank which is celebrating 25 years of lifting county residents up from hunger by addressing food insufficiency. Dignitaries and volunteers joined Apostal in a tour of the facility on Kennedy Boulevard, gave a bunch of speeches and did some outright hard work.
James Polos, Director of the Middlesex County Improvement Association, said, “We are proud of the program, which has expanded the variety of food to offer to those who need it in our county. Middlesex is doing its part. I would also like to thank the volunteers, participating organizations, and corporate sponsors who make this process possible.” Polos also cited the improved refrigeration at the facility which has enable MCFOODS to supply a greater amount of fresh foods.
MCFOODS is a collection and distribution center for several participating partners within the county. Joining Apostal and her crew last week were representatives from Elijah’s Promise, the Sharon Baptist Church, Aldersgate Outreach, Vanessa’s Pantry, the Highland Park Food Pantry, ICNA Relief, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and St. Peter’s Pantry who bring food and supplies to those who need support.
Said Apostal, “MCFOODS helps to fill the gaps. Some of the people who work here are the original volunteers from 25 years ago. We show strength in community.” She also gave credit to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the East Brunswick Department of recreation who show extensive support in collecting foods and other necessities for those who could use them.
She went on to praise the AARP, a group of solid supporters. She credited Carol Arena and Kay McCormack of the Edison AARP who founded the first food support program in the county in 1994 for helping to grow the service into its current size.
Apostal had good words for the East Brunswick Youth Council, represented at the event by Jennifer Stetson of the East Brunswick Recreation Department, and corporate chefs who donate their time and work together to create fundraising events for the food bank.
Volunteers and Apostal were eager to point out MCFOOD’s new focus on collecting hygiene supplies that are greatly needed by the poor. “FEMA money and other sources like WIC and food stamps only pay for diapers, not the wipes, soaps or other baby products necessary for child care. She called these items “non-food essentials” that the food bank was also starting to collect and supply.
Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin cited a need for greater federal support for food initiatives and described current efforts to increase food-sharing, especially in the public schools and during summer programs.
New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said that he had a “good feeling” when visiting the food bank, again thanking volunteers and representatives of the cooperating programs. He referenced the “Dine Below the Line,” a hunger awareness program, in which food pantry staples become part of a feast designed by local chefs.
Coughlin said that there are 900,00 “food insecure” people in New Jersey, and 1 out of every 8 people who live in Middlesex County need food. “The need at colleges has increased,” he said, “As has the need among returning veterans and single mothers. New Jersey faces a long battle with eroding support from Washington.
Pinkin echoed his concerns and again described the need to “leverage the assets here” and to “bring down federal dollars” to help “everybody lift us all up.”
Polos the described the issue of global hunger, while expressing pride in the achievements of Middlesex County in addressing needs due to the “moral and financial support” of effective programs. While praising volunteers and partners, he also called some corporations the “unsung heroes” of addressing hunger. “MCFOODS has been repurposing foods for 25 years so that people do not have to go hungry again.”
“There is an army of caring, loving people in Middlesex County,” announced Freeholder Director Ronald Rios, “And a day like this makes me feel good as an American. Thank you for making a positive change in people’s lives. Last year, MCFOODS distributed two million pounds of produce, dairy, and meat to make sure our neighbors are being fed.”
A flurry of activity was unleashed as politicians joined volunteers to “move food along the line” and begin to load the trucks. There was lots of support for this far-reaching program by those who had the authority to make good things happen.
At the end, though, there was Jen Apostal and the volunteers still doing the daily work involved in addressing the food needs of people in the county for a quarter of a century.