Newark's Camden Street School brings dinner home in community-wide initiative

Volunteers from Marketsmith joined forces with Camden Street Elementary School in Newark to feed more than 1,000 residents at a community Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Credits: Elana Knopp
It was an evening of family, friends, giving and hope as more than 350 families gathered at Newark’s Camden Street Elementary School for its sixth annual “Bring Dinner Home” Thanksgiving dinner. Credits: Elana Knopp
The "Bring Dinner Home" initiative serves a community dinner to more than 1,000 Newark residents and gives out grocery gift cards, winter coats, diapers and books. Credits: Elana Knopp
More than 100 volunteers took part in the "Bring Dinner Home" Thanksgiving initiative on Thursday at Camden Street Elementary School. Credits: Elana Knopp
"Bring Dinner Home" is a response to the issues of child hunger and poverty. Since the program’s inception, academic performance and test scores has increased by six percent. Credits: Elana Knopp
Books, diapers, coats and other supplies are handed out throughout the year as part of the Camden Street School community initiative. Credits: Elana Knopp

It was an evening of family, friends, giving and hope as more than 350 families gathered at Newark’s Camden Street Elementary School on Thursday for its sixth annual “Bring Dinner Home” Thanksgiving dinner.

The initiative serves a community dinner to more than 1,000 Newark residents, who received grocery gift cards, winter coats, diapers and books.

The program provides ongoing support to area families over the course of the year, especially critical due to $4 million funding cuts from the overall school budget over the last six years.

Sign Up for E-News

A highlight of this year’s event was a focus on families displaced by recent hurricanes in the Caribbean.

The event also featured tours of the school’s new STEAM Room, (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Technology) a program for early childhood learning, as well as the Camden Cares Room, which supports families with services like the free use of washing machines—purchased to ensure that students and families have access to clean clothes--as well as providing diapers and school supplies throughout the year.

To date, the program has distributed 3,200 coats and 3,000 books and provided gift cards to more than 1,800 families.

The program is the brainchild of Camden Street School Principal Sam Garrison and Marketsmith Inc. CEO Monica Smith and her spouse, Amy Allan Smith, with the concept originating from a book that highlights the importance of good nutrition and bonding over family dinner.

“It’s been six years of loving this community and loving the kids and I owe it all to Marketsmith,” Garrison said.

Garrison knew he wanted to bring an initiative to the school that fostered a culture of quality time.

“I thought, 'how do I build quality time in a school?'” Garrison said. “The thought was that when I had quality time growing up it was at dinner time. Families aren’t having quality time anymore and sitting down and talking together.”

That’s when Garrison decided he would spend his Thanksgiving dinner with the entire school.

Students at the Camden Street School face specific challenges and hurdles as a result of broken homes, poverty and, in many cases, addiction.

Many students have struggled academically due to hunger, said Garrison, while others lack warm coats or clean clothes, often deterring them from attending school.

"Bring Dinner Home" is a response to the issues of child hunger and poverty and is yielding results. Since the program’s inception, attendance has increased and academic performance and test scores have gone up by six percent.

Missing meals and experiencing hunger impair children’s development and achievement, according to the National Education Association. 

Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry document the impacts of hunger on children’s academic performance and behavior in school, which show that hungry children have lower math scores, are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late or miss school entirely.

All Marketsmith staff members are involved in the effort as part of their commitment to the company’s mission of, “to do great work, so we can do good things.”

“I believe those of us who have found success owe it to this world to make it a better place,” Smith said. “Every child deserves to be fed, safe and educated.”

Marketsmith President Jill Draper said the program was started to address poverty and hunger issues and their effect on academic performance.

“The kids are cold, they don’t have a coat, and they’re not going to school,” she said. “Principal Garrison is so focused on improving academic reports and giving families a sense of purpose and hope. For us at Marketsmith, giving back is part of our DNA, part of our culture.”

Garrison noted the marked improvement in students’ academic performance.

“Our test results have gone up at least six percent and I can attribute that to the whole culture of the school,” he said. “We’re all about two words—'Camden cares.' People have good hearts and people can know they’re making a difference.”

As the event has grown, so has the response from New Jersey’s business community, with donations from entities providing funding and volunteers, as well as donations of water, diapers and other supplies.

Garrison hopes the school's program will inspire others to take on an initiative like “Bring Dinner Home.”

“There’s a whole bunch of people in corporate America who are trying to make a difference,” he said. “What we’re doing for our school, another company can do. What started off as one dinner has now become a care room and a beacon of hope for the community. This is not a one day thing--we're’re going to be here to support them. People need to be seen and valued and appreciated and that needs to start early. Your neighbor is the person you happen to share humanity with.”

For more information on "Bring Dinner Home" visit

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Thousands rally in Newark as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives

March 24, 2018

Newark, NJ—Thousands of protesters converged on Newark's Military Park today as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives demonstrations calling for an end to gun violence. 

Led by students from around New Jersey, the Newark rally was just one of nearly two dozen marches taking place across the state, and one of hundreds of protests across the United States, pushing for ...

LUPE Fund, Inc. to Announce the 2018 Young Latina Leadership Scholarship Recipients during Power of Women Reception

April 16, 2018

Newark, NJ – The LUPE Fund, Inc. will announce the selection of seven outstanding undergraduate students to receive the 2018 Young Latina Leadership Scholarship during their annual Power of Women Reception. LUPE Fund’s Power of Women Reception and 15th Anniversary Celebration will be held on May 2, 2018, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Waterside Restaurant, located at 7800 River Road in ...

TAPinto Newark Gala Scene

As gala season approaches, TAPinto Newark has launched a Gala Scene section to provide a space for non-profit organizations to post announcements about their upcoming galas and submit a short writeup about their gala afterwards.

TAPinto Newark invites non-profit organizations to submit a press release about their upcoming galas. After the gala is over, please feel feel to upload a short story ...

Making Our City Bloom Gala Will Benefit Greater Newark Conservancy

Linda Bowden, Regional President of PNC Bank, New Jersey will be the event emcee at the “Making Our City Bloom Gala” to benefit the programs of Greater Newark Conservancy on May 10th at Nanina’s in the Park in Belleville.

The Conservancy provides educational programs that enrich the lives of thousands of inner city children from pre-school to high school. Sustainably-raised ...

High-Tech Gadgetry Fuels the 35th Anniversary of the World Series of Birding

April 6, 2018

BERNARDSVILLE – For any real competitor, there’s the ultimate competition: think the Final Four. Or the Super Bowl. Or the biggest cucumber at the state fair.

For birdwatchers, the not-to-miss event is the annual World Series of Birding, to be held Saturday, May 12. It’s a proud New Jersey exclusive.

Individuals and teams fan out across the state for a ...

Rutgers protesters planned at Tuesday's Board of Governors meeting

April 9, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK - If you believe what you read on Facebook these days, it would appear that more than 100 protesters will be storming the Rutgers University Board of Governors meeting at noon on Tuesday, April 10.

The reason? 

Contracts are set to expire in June for  20,000 faculty and staff members at the university.

But that is not the only issue at hand. There are a laundry ...

Safe Sleep for Babies Requires Effort from All

April 10, 2018

For more than a decade, my organization, Keeping Babies Safe (KBS), has sounded the steady drumbeat of safe sleep awareness, which in turn has created bans on dangerous products and has helped enact laws that work to ensure babies are sleeping safely.

In 2018, KBS kicked off its latest awareness campaign designed to promote safe sleep practices and products ...