Refugee Assistance Partners NJ (RAP) provides hunger relief for local refugees, an effort that has been continuing since March. Hunger is pervasive within the community, and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an already growing problem of food insecurity throughout New Jersey. Based in Scotch Plains, Refugee Assistance Partners NJ (RAP) is an interfaith partnership of communities and individuals helping refugees resettled in and around Union County. Through a state-wide collaboration, a convoy of cars and vans, filled with an abundance of fresh groceries and nonperishable food and supplies, traveled to the homes of over a hundred and twenty refugee families to assist them in a dire time of need. "When the van pulls up, it's like being visited by an angel," expressed one refugee about the weekly food deliveries.
When Governor Murphy ordered all non-essential businesses to close in late March, many resettled refugees lost their sources of income and were struggling to make ends meet. Some were unluckier than others: many did not receive food stamps, stimulus checks, or unemployment benefits. With the government-mandated lockdown underway, RAP began concentrating its efforts on providing food to vulnerable populations. These donations were made possible in part by RAP's partnership with Nourish America, a student-led nonprofit organization dedicated to giving allergy-friendly food to people in need. Since its founding in 2018, Nourish America has donated over 1,300 pounds of allergy-friendly food to underprivileged communities.
"Having volunteered with the refugees' children and formed friendships with them, I felt a need to use my platform and offer as much help as I could," Nourish America's founder and president Shreya Shivakumar explained. Shreya's experiences with food insecurity during her time growing up in New York City motivated her to fight food insecurity, especially childhood hunger, through Nourish America.
A collaboration between RAP, Nourish America, and several other community-based nonprofit organizations aiding refugees formed to distribute food to the refugee families. After coordinating with RAP to figure out a food distribution method that adheres to social distancing guidelines, the Nourish America team formulated a plan to provide rapid relief to the refugees struggling with food insecurity. Nourish America donated hundreds of essential food items from March to June, including fresh fruits and vegetables, canned items, rice, cereals, and gluten-free pasta. Dedicated volunteers from several area helping groups divided the foods evenly into packages and distributed them to each family. The response from the refugee families was one of overwhelming joy and gratitude.
RAP president Jill Segulin voiced that "Shreya Shivakumar and Nourish America have been a lifeline for over one hundred refugee families for weekly food deliveries" and emphasized that "in the absence of government resources, Nourish America [makes] the difference between whether these families feed their kids or go hungry."
Staying true to the organization's mission of providing allergy-friendly foods to people in need, the Nourish America team verified that each gluten-free item was safe for people with gluten allergies or Celiac disease by reading food labels and researching the items before donating. The donations were made possible primarily by funds from Nourish America's annual Notes For Nourish benefit concerts. Hosted in 2019 and virtually in 2020, the two concerts involved 40 youth musicians, 400 audience members, and raised $1,200 to alleviate hunger. Nourish America harnessed the power of social media to publicize their work on their Instagram account (@nourishamerica) to support their initiative. In just a few days, the team raised hundreds of dollars to help families living in food insecurity due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Nourish America hopes to assist more families into the new year through allergy-friendly food drives and fundraisers to support food banks across the northeast. By creating meaningful collaborations with nonprofit organizations like RAP, they will increase access to nutritious, allergy-safe food, and uplift communities impacted by the pandemic. Nourish America is a thriving youth nonprofit that is fighting against food insecurity – and the movement shows no signs of slowing down on their journey to end hunger for all.