By JENNIFER GLACKIN
Specially Written for The Leader/Times
WESTFIELD — It has been more than 150 days since the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown, and the number of food-insecure individuals and families continues to grow. Feed the Frontline of Hunger, founded by Westfield’s Michael Esposito, is trying to offset the growing need, but the organization only has enough money to sustain another two weeks.
In March, Steve and Michelle Voice started Westfield’s Feed the Frontline: NJ with a simple mission — feed busy medical personnel with meals purchased from local restaurants. Mr. Esposito, one of the vanguard supporters of Feed the Frontline: NJ, also helped organize multi-town food drives and the Jefferson Elementary PTO’s Wednesday Sandwich Drive for St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth. It was through the food drives that Mr. Esposito built a relationship with Rahway Food for Friends, one of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s (CFBNJ) affiliated partners. As the healthcare industry began to return to normal, Mr. Esposito realized there was a growing need at the local food banks.
According to the CFBNJ website, it has provided six million more nutritious meals than last year, an increase of 34 percent. Applications are up 29 percent for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Local soup kitchen and outreach Rahway Food for Friends, which typically serves 150 to 200 families per week, currently serves close to 1,000 families weekly, according to Mr. Esposito.
Local restaurants “can’t go to full capacity and still have a need for the business,” Mr. Esposito told The Westfield Leader, so his organization purchases meals and donates them to “those who need it most.” Each week, the group works with the restaurants to purchase 300 meals for $1,000. One hundred and ninety meals are donated to the Rahway Food for Friends soup kitchen, while the other 110 are for the organization’s mobile-meals service that brings meals directly to people who cannot leave their homes. The demand on Food for Friends’ resources is so great, that some days the mobile-meal service was only able to provide a can of tuna and some crackers, said Mr. Esposito.
Over the past seven weeks, Feed the Frontline of Hunger has been able to put about $7,000 back into the community. Steve Voice donated the remaining funds from the original Feed the Frontline group and there also were donations from the Rotary Club of Westfield, the Rotary Club of Fanwood-Scotch Plains, other local businesses and private citizens. Westfield’s Tamaques Elementary School PTO purchased the first set of 300 meals from Hershey’s Deli with its remaining lunch program funds. Westfield student Morgan Eckenthal sold mask necklaces through Instagram and donated $500 to Feed the Frontline of Hunger. BurgerIM in Clark, Paragon Tap and Table in Clark, Sheelen’s Bistro in Fanwood, Max’s Pizza and Bistro in Scotch Plains, OuttaHand Pizza, Westfield Station Café, and Bovella’s in Westfield are some of the restaurants that have provided the meals. This upcoming Friday’s donation will be from Buona Pizza, thanks in part to Ms. Eckenthal’s donation.
Other local businesses also have supported the efforts. In June, D’Artagnan, a food supplier in Union, donated four pallets of frozen chicken. Boxwood Coffee Roasters in Summit recently donated money from its Quarantine Quiz Night in addition to two boxes of coffee for the Rahway Food for Friends volunteers.
Businesses, groups or individuals wishing to run a promotion or fundraiser for Feed the Frontline of Hunger can reach out to Mr. Esposito through Facebook or through the GoFundMe page. Also, any donor who donates $500 to $1,000 can pick the restaurant they want to support (provided the restaurant can handle the order size). Mr. Esposito wants to continue this effort for as long as he can. To participate, visit gofundme.com/f/feed-the-frontline-of-hunger.