Nearly four years ago, a group of individuals—including representatives from Princeton Public Schools, the Princeton Human Services Commission, Mercer Street Friends, and other organization leaders—gathered to discuss the possibility of a resource that would detail all the potential places in Princeton low-income families could receive food. During this conversation, the topic of food insecurity specifically for students in PPS came to the group’s attention, and a need for action was clear.
In Princeton, approximately two students in each classroom are eligible for free or reduced lunch prices according to shupprinceton.org, but this does not cover weekend meals. Upon realizing this, Send Hunger Packing Princeton was founded as an outgrowth of a former Mercer Street Friends program called Send Hunger Packing, and has since hosted four major fundraisers. These fundraisers go toward supporting the SHUPP’s program of providing supplemental meals to Princeton students, which include four nutritious bagged meals per weekend during the school year.
“Our [saying] is, ‘So that students hunger for knowledge and not for food,’” said Ross Wishnick, the chairman of the Princeton Human Services Commission.The first fundraiser was called A Place at the Table, after the identically-named documentary about hunger in America. Following a viewing of this film at the Princeton Garden Theater, a panel discussion was held. The discussion included the director of the film, Lori Silverbush. The second fundraiser, held at Community Park Elementary School, was smaller and featured multiple town leaders and a celebrity chef, Brian Duffy.
Last year’s event was a larger affair, know as a Hunger Banquet. Participants drew a number one, two, or three to determine if they would dine like a low income family, a middle class family, or a high income family. As the meal began, the middle and upper class participants began to share with those who, by the luck of the draw, were subject to a more meager portion.
“In this case, for one moment, you [didn’t] have a choice what you [ate], and it’s just sort of a poignant moment where you [realize that] people don’t have choices all the time,” Wishnick said.
This year, the event was called Fill the Bowls. Based off a national project called Empty Bowls, SHUPP chose this name for its more positive connotation. Participants each received a handcrafted ceramic bowl created by Adam Welch, director of greenwich house pottery and lecturer at Princeton University. The bowls were filled with food graciously donated by local businesses for guests to eat. Duffy was again featured, demonstrating cooking skills and sharing nutritious recipes to participants, with a performance by PHS capella group Around 8 and various speakers to complete the afternoon event. Held at Hinds Plaza on September 25, the $50 entrance fee went primarily towards funding supplemental meals for the year.
The event planners change the theme annually to approach the subject from different perspectives.
“It would be a lot easier if we did the same event every year, but we think that it’s more interesting, and more poignant, and more informative [this way]. The result is always the same … we’re raising money for a good cause,” Wishnick said.
Mercer Street Friends, a Princeton-based food bank, is the primary meal provider for this program. Every two weeks, packages of food are transported to the various schools and distributed to students signed up for the resource.
SHUPP supports Princeton Nursery School, all PPS elementary schools, John Witherspoon Middle School, and participants in various YMCA programs and summer camps.
“I really appreciate the work … a group of people in the community [have] identified that there’s this need and … were willing to organize and to bring this resource to families,” said Wendy Cotton, Director of Princeton Nursery School. “I thank them for supporting our families here at the school, but also for supporting the community [as] a whole.”
For all schools or programs supported, use of this resource is self-selected; families can choose to opt in to the supplemental meal program regardless of income or socioeconomic status. At the Princeton Nursery School, 25 families, or about 50 percent of the school, currently use this program. With this aid, families are able to budget more money towards other expenses, without worrying about the quality of their children’s food.
“It’s a dignified way of distributing meals … When [kids] go home on the weekends, they may not have access to milk, fruit, protein… They may get something to eat but it may not be [something] nutritiously advantageous,” Cotton said.
The Princeton Human Services Commission has served as a platform for many similar initiatives around town, supporting undocumented immigrants with resources to understanding the law and working with schools to ensure equal access to field trips and events for all students.
“We [want] to reach the low-resource population, so when a service is available they know how to get it,” Wishnick said.
According to Wishnick, SHUPP has provided about 63,000 supplemental meals since it was founded in 2013.