NEWARK, NJ - State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz led a donation on Monday dropping off 1,500 pounds of apples gleaned from an East Brunswick orchard to Newark Central High School.

Joined by Newark Schools Superintendent Roger Leon and officials from the community food rescue program Table to Table, Ruiz said the donation was meant to highlight school nutrition. 

It also comes in conjunction with a bill she introduced in the state legislature last week that would eliminate the reduced lunch program and instead make those meals free for students in school.

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“This is much greater than just going to a farm and taking our urban kids into a different experience in kind of a rural environment,” Ruiz said. “It’s about elevating the conversation about our school lunch program and how we should do better in the Garden State.”

Brian Strumfels, the program coordinator for Farmers Against Hunger, drove and delivered the apples to the school on Monday. Strumfels said his program collects 500,000 pounds of produce every year gleaned by 1,200 volunteers all over the state. 

Twelve freshman students from the high school’s environmental program were chosen to glean the apples Friday. Food gleaned from the farms may sometimes go to schools but are also delivered to community centers in areas of food deserts around the state, Strumfels said. 

“We’re small, but we do get a lot of food out there to all the organizations,” Strumfels said.

Table to Table is a food rescue program that operates in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties. It picks up excess food from supermarkets and restaurants and delivers them to communities in need that include soup kitchens, homeless shelters and after school programs. 

Farmers Against Hunger was founded by Jim Giamarese, who runs the Giamarese Farm and Orchards where the students picked the apples Friday. Typically, 80,000 to 90,000 pounds of apples are gleaned from the farm every year, Strumfels said.

Ruiz said Leon picked Central High School to participate in part due to its environmental science program. Leon said he aims to incorporate healthy eating habits through education across the school system starting at a young age. 

“It’s not about eating healthy but it’s also about living healthy,” Leon said.

Ruiz said the concept of using local New Jersey farms to provide for meals in the city school system also has a positive impact on economic development because it helps farmers and students alike.

She said instilling students with the knowledge of fresh fruit and vegetables at every meal -- and showing them exactly where food is grown and comes from -- spans a host of subject matters from math to engineering, environment and health. 

“It engages our students in a different way,” Ruiz said.