Sherry is a hard worker who is employed as a hairdresser at an upscale salon in the area. To look at her, you’d never know that every month she, as single mother, struggles to put food on the table for her 9- and 14-year-old children.
As the economy has worsened, her clients have increased the time between their hair appointments, resulting in less money for her. Helping feed her kids is the bag of groceries she receives every month from the food pantry at , the Lawrence Township-based non-profit whose mission it is to help struggling or homeless families throughout Mercer County.
Each month, HomeFront passes out food bags to between 700 and 1,000 families and individuals in need. The majority of the food that is handed out is donated by generous members of the community.
The problem is, right now, not enough donations are coming in, so the bags are going out only half full.
In an effort to stock the pantry shelves and guarantee that more families get the help they so desperately need, Lawrenceville Patch, HomeFront and ShopRite are teaming up to hold a two-day community food drive.
The drive will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, March 10, and Sunday, March 11, at the ShopRite supermarket at Mercer Mall in the 3300 block of Brunswick Pike (Route 1) in Lawrence Township.
“I was so embarrassed. I’m just your average person,” Sherry said, recalling her first visit to the HomeFront food pantry.
Two-and-a-half years later, HomeFront “is a blessing,” she said. “Thank God! It definitely helps anywhere you can cut corners at this time until the economy picks up. Everybody [at HomeFront] is wonderful. I’ve never had a bad experience.”
Now Sherry tells her friends who are struggling to turn to HomeFront. “There are a lot of people in need right now.”
Everyone’s story is different. Aston Douglas started turning to HomeFront for food assistance nearly six years ago, not long after he received custody of his sons, who were 5 and 11 years old at the time.
“Mr. Douglas,” as the staff at HomeFront respectfully calls him, came to the United States from Jamaica 24 years ago and worked two jobs – one a fulltime position that paid well, and the other a part-time position. About six months after gaining custody of his boys, “my good job left me,” he explained.
Money became tight and he soon had to skimp on grocery purchases in order to pay rent to keep a roof over his children’s heads. He still struggles to pay rent, but HomeFront’s monthly food assistance is helping feed his boys, who are now 11 and 18. “HomeFront always helps me with my problems,” he said, his charming Jamaican accent still intact. “I just catch up above water. God Bless this place. I’m looking into a better future. I always hope for the best. Every day I pray.”
HomeFront, which manages the Lawrence Community Center on Eggerts Crossing Road, was been passing out food bags to the needy for 20 years. Currently, bags are distributed from the community center on the first and third Thursdays of every month, and from the HomeFront office on Princeton Avenue in Lawrence each week on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Each family is allowed to obtain one food bag every 30 days. While the majority of the families who receive bags come from Lawrence, Trenton, Ewing and Hamilton, some come from elsewhere in Mercer County, and others come from even farther.
When enough donations come in, HomeFront stuffs each food bag with about 40 items, including at least two each of canned vegetables, fruits, proteins (like meat, tuna or beans), and carbohydrates (such as pasta, potatoes or rice).
But, with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah holidays long past, donations have dwindled. The food pantry shelves are bare and the food bags are going out half empty.
“Middle income people are having situational problems,” Christine Lee, director of the Lawrence Community Center, said, echoing the story shared by Sherry.
“The average age of our client is 7 years old. No one wants to see an adult go hungry, let alone a child,” Lee said. “This food drive is essential to stocking our pantry shelves and assisting us in the fight against hunger. Our families rely on this food to help supplement their own pantries and get them through the month.”
The staff and volunteers at HomeFront all have enormous hearts. Jim Mate and Suzanne Harris work in the stockroom. The United States Department of Agriculture provides HomeFront with some food – like rice, potatoes and creamed corn – but not nearly enough to fill a bag. HomeFront relies on the generosity of the community for other items to help make the food bags more nutritional.
Mate, HomeFront’s food pantry supervisor for the past two years, emphasized the need for more protein (canned meat, chicken, tuna, and beans) and juice boxes. “We are always short on juice.”
Harris has been volunteering with HomeFront for about a year. She emphasized the preference for donations to be in plastic containers rather than glass ones. Besides the concern that glass might break, she said many “people carry [their bags] to the bus, or walk and carry it home.” Lighter bags filled with more food are ideal.
HomeFront’s wish list of donations include: canned meats and tuna, finger foods, breakfast bars, peanut butter, jellies, soups with meat, juice boxes, healthy snacks, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, and rice. All food is accepted, however they prefer smaller containers that can feed many people, rather than extra-large cans that fill a bag and do not allow room for variety.
Some of HomeFront’s clients live in motels and do not have access to refrigerators or microwaves. Food that is easy to store and easy to prepare is a huge help. Giving a child a breakfast bar before going to school gives that child a better chance to succeed and get a good education, Lee said.
So on behalf of Sherry and Mr. Douglas and the many other people that HomeFront helps every month, we at Lawrenceville Patch are encouraging our readers to stop by ShopRite at Mercer Mall tomorrow or Sunday to make a donation. Every little bit helps.
And anyone wishing to make a monetary donation can do so via the HomeFront website. Information about how to volunteer with HomeFront can be obtained by sending a email to volunteer coordinator Lynn Bovier.