NEWARK, NJ - Every Friday morning between April and November, a truck filled with fresh fruits and vegetables pulls up to the Ironbound Community Corp. (ICC) Family Success Center on Cortland Street in the easternmost section of Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood.
As jets bound for Newark Liberty International Airport scream overhead, large pallets are taken off the truck and ICC staff along with a large group of community volunteers divide, sort and package the produce into large bags – 750 bags in all.
By noon, residents of the surrounding community begin lining up for the bags, which are handed out free of charge. Many of the volunteers continue working to help distribute the food.
The urban farmer’s market is a partnership between the ICC and Table to Table, a community-based food rescue program that collects prepared and perishable food that would otherwise be wasted and delivers it to organizations serving the hungry in the Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Passaic counties.
“We have some of the most beautiful produce coming to this market,” said Julie Kinner, director of recipient relations and community affairs for Table to Table. “It’s quite an endeavor that we’ve taken on and we’re committed to continue no matter what.”
The produce is donated free of charge by HelloFresh, the leading meal kit company that has a distribution warehouse on Lister Avenue in Newark, a few blocks from the ICC’s Cortland Street location.
“Our partnership with Table to Table gives us an opportunity to extend our mission of increasing access to fresh food with our produce going to the Newark community instead of a landfill,” said Nicole Messier, head of communications, HelloFresh. “HelloFresh is dedicated to supporting the wonderful Newark community who also support our brand as instrumental members of our team inside our production facility.”
Table to Table does not receive any government money, but it does receive funding from corporate partners, including a $10,000 grant from Verizon. The Verizon grant keeps the operation running, helping to pay for renting the delivery truck, the driver and other incidentals.
“Verizon is committed to supporting organizations like Table to Table that provide such vital services to the communities we serve,” said Sam Delgado, the vice president of external affairs for Verizon New Jersey. “Table to Table touches so many lives, providing healthy, nutritious food that would otherwise be inaccessible.”
Jessica Valladolid, the volunteer and community partnership coordinator, called the surrounding neighborhood a food desert. The East Ironbound neighborhood, hemmed in by Routes 1 & 9 and the Passaic River, is more than a mile from Seabra Foods, the closest supermarket on Ferry and Madison streets.
While Seabra offers a rich array of fresh produce beautifully displayed on the sidewalk in front of the store, it is too far to walk from the neighborhood and its prices are too expensive for residents, many of whom are financially struggling, Valladolid said.
“Our only walkable food sources are bodegas,” Valladolid said. “The fresh produce is really limited in this area. We’re really trying to help people have fresh produce. This program makes a big impact.”
Residents who came to the farmers market not only got free produce, but received free nutritional advice from dietitians from Inserra ShopRite, who volunteer their time.
Larry Inserra, Jr., who owns Inserra Supermarkets Inc., which operates 22 ShopRite supermarkets in New Jersey, sits on the board of Table to Table along with his daughter, Lindsey, the head of Health and Wellness for ShopRite.
According to Kinner, Lindsey spearheaded the initiative to make the company’s in-store dietitians available for advice as well as tips on how to cook more healthy meals.
On this particular day, the dietitians whipped up a salad using produce typically distributed at the market and were handing out samples.
“Sometimes you receive produce that is not familiar to the recipients, so the dietitians figure out different ways to prepare what’s in the bag in a better way,” Kinner said.
Valladolid said the ICC is always looking for volunteers who want to help unload the trucks and repackage the produce on Fridays starting at 10 a.m. from April to November. For more information about volunteering, contact Valladolid at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-344-5949.