NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – It’s intermission at a recent show at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center and a young woman approaches the concession stand on a mission to sate her sweet tooth.
She’s greeted by such delights as gourmet chocolates and golden popcorn. With little hesitation, she opts for a cookie - perhaps unaware that it’s not just going to taste good, it’s going to do good.
For those who bother to glance at the wrapping before tearing it off and tearing into the cookie, the snack’s significance is spelled out right there. Every Taste Good, Do Good cookie purchased helps pay for one meal at Elijah’s Promise.
These cookies that have been offered to theatergoers since the NBPAC opened its doors in September have been made in the kitchens of Elijah’s Promise, a community center on Neilson Street that serves up about 115,000 free meals each year.
That number is bound to increase in 2020, as the cookies continue to sell like hotcakes.
This is the story about how a humble, oversized, individually wrapped chocolate chip cookie is helping reshape lives and feed empty bellies in a city where food insecurity and related issues such as homeless are everyday realities for some.
“When people see the label, they get really interested in it,” said Merissa Buczny, Vice President at New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO). “(They say), ‘Tell us about this. Tell us about your partnership with them’ because it says right on the label that each cookie pays for a meal.
“So, I don’t think people feel so bad about eating the cookie when they’re doing good.”
The $172 million building that’s home to the NBPAC was just the latest project that DEVCO has built in the city over the past 40-plus years. George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theatre Company, American Repertory Ballet and Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts share the Elizabeth Ross Johnson and Arthur Laurents stages.
Buczny said that over that time, it has formed a partnership with many agencies and organizations in the city and beyond. She said DEVCO always has an eye out, if not its heart out, for ways it can help these partners. For instance, the popcorn is provided by Piscataway-based Popcorn For the People, which is employs adults with autism.
Michelle Wilson, the executive director at Elijah’s Promise, said it was DEVCO President Chris Paladino’s idea to use the concession counter as a place to fundraise for Elijah’s Promise.
Over the first four months since the curtain went up on the NBPAC, about 300 Taste Good, Do Good cookies have been sold at the lobby’s concession stand.
Having a presence at the counter has helped spread the word and boost sales elsewhere. For instance, one of the planners from one of the many conventions held at the nearby Heldrich Hotel recently came a show and fell in love with the cookies.
“She said, ‘For my next conference here, this would be a great thing to give these away to my clients,’” Buczny said. “So, she wound up buying, I think it was somewhere around 300 cookies to give to the folks that were coming to her conference.”
Ed Rebenack, a partner with Jay Mascolo and Craig Aronow at RAM Law, which has offices in New Brunswick, ordered 100 cookies to give to his clients around the holidays.
“Around the holiday time, a lot of people mentioned them to us later and asked questions about the organization,” said Rebenack, who serves on a couple of committees at Elijah’s Promise and organizes a day for his colleagues to volunteer in its kitchen. “They wanted to know more about Elijah’s Promise.”
Wilson said that Elijah’s Promise’s brownies are also a big hit, although they are not available at the NBPAC. However, she is working to bring another type of cookie, like oatmeal raisin or peanut butter, to sit beside the chocolate chip ones at the concession stand.
“I think it’s the best chocolate chip cookie,” she said. “That’s why we’ve nicknamed it the best darn cookie in the whole wide world.
“I always say the secret ingredient that makes it taste so good is the love we put into making them.”