MADISON, NJ – Hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life gathered on Sunday at the Drew University Simon Forum and Athletic Center. Each of those in attendance slapped on a hairnet and pulled a fresh pair of gloves onto their hands, ready to work.
End Hunger 3.6, hosted by the Rotary Club of Madison, was underway.
The goal this year, the event’s third, was to package 200,000 meals for hungry New Jerseyans throughout Rotary district 7470, which encompasses Morris, Essex, Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon counties, as well as parts of Somerset County.
Meals were boxed up and distributed to various feeding centers throughout the area during this all-volunteer project. The Morristown Community Kitchen, the Salvation Army and NORWESCAP Food Bank in Newton were among some of the recipients.
Originally scheduled for Saturday, organizers were forced to postpone End Hunger when a supply truck broke down en route to Drew University and turned up hours late. Madison Rotarian Ellsworth Havens said he worried about low volunteer turnout on Sunday, the event’s rescheduled date.
About 800 volunteers were signed up for Saturday. An estimated 600 people returned on Sunday, including members of more than two dozen Rotary clubs throughout the region.
“It’s tremendous that 600 people decided the reschedule their lives,” said Havens, one of the project’s primary organizers.
Despite the higher-than-expected turnout, event organizers were not able to reach this year’s goal, packaging just over 158,000 meals—40 percent less than anticipated.
Although “less than our target,” Havens said, the ending total shows End Hunger’s “substantial growth” since its inception in 2016—158,000 meals is still about 30 percent more than last year’s number: 123,000.
Because the club does not have to pay for unpacked food, the raw materials that remained at the event’s conclusion around 2 p.m. were shipped back to the supplier at no cost.
Locals "End Hunger"
Some of those in attendance, including Madison resident Jennifer Baumann and her husband, Eric, answered the call for volunteers that came from several organizers after the event was postponed Saturday.
“It was like, ‘Do we go see ‘Black Panther or do we come here?’” said Jennifer, who decided to sign up after seeing a Facebook post asking for help on Sunday. “We can go see the movie anytime,” her husband replied.
This commitment was shared by many others, including Dominique Tornabe, director of development and community relations at Family Promise of Morris County.
With her young daughter at her hip, she spoke about the significance of giving back despite the unexpected obstacles.
“Obviously with a toddler...it would be so easy to say, ‘Well I can’t quite make it,’” she said of her decision to attend the rescheduled event. “But this is too big and too important.”
Hans Morsink, a now-retired Drew University professor and parish member at the United Methodist Church in Madison, has volunteered for End Hunger since its first year. This year, he returned to the event with several others from his church.
“Food is a human right,” he said. “The world is not a pretty picture, but this (event) gives us hope.”
Morsink said he was amazed by the number of meals End Hunger has provided for hungry New Jerseyans since 2016: more than 300,000.
“It’s all teamwork,” he said. “It’s like serving human rights from the ground up.”
Another Madisonian was spotted at Sunday’s event: Rotarian and Madison Mayor Bob Conley, who said his participation in events that give back to the community is a “key part” of being mayor.
“Part of my role is being a cheerleader; (get) spirits up, thank the Madison residents that came out and welcome those from other communities that came to our town to help the hungry,” he said.
While some of the participants on Sunday were Madison residents, many others came from neighboring towns—more than 80 of them, according to Havens.
Hope for the Future
Madison Rotary has big plans for next year’s event, Havens said. District 7470 will soon merge with a neighboring district—which includes Middlesex and Mercer counties, among others—and will encompass 10 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, about 4 million people.
The merger could mean substantial growth for End Hunger 3.6 in future years. Havens said the club plans to host two End Hunger events with a total goal of 1 million meals by year two.
End Hunger is already the largest Rotary-hosted food packaging event in the country, he said, and more help can always be given to those in need.
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