The food pantry at the Henry Pannell Learning Center on Clay Street in Princeton was closed down in late March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor’s stay-at-home order, and the need for social distancing. But volunteers have pivoted, creating a mobile food pantry that is serving a growing number of people in the Princeton community.
A grassroots effort, the Princeton Mobile Food Pantry is all about neighbors helping neighbors. Volunteers who live in Princeton have been collecting gift cards and money to purchase groceries to be delivered to families in need. More than 150 residents have contributed to the effort, which seeks to provide people who are food insecure with fresh, healthy foods, while also preserving people’s dignity. The group also provides residents with other needed items like diapers, soap, and gift cards for pharmacies so they can fill prescriptions. People in need are not required to fill out applications or provide financial documents to prove they need food.
Volunteer Deb Bronfeld said the lines for food at the pantry on Clay Street grew after the COVID-19 outbreak because more people were out of work. Organizers knew they would have to pivot to dropping off food in order to protect people because it was impossible to have enough space between people at the pantry.
“The needs have grown beyond the neighborhoods where there has historically been a need,” Bronfeld said. “We are working to make sure we are serving more people, and we are working to expand and partner with other groups. This has been a completely grassroots effort where we have received all of our money from friends. Luckily, McCaffrey’s has been very generous. We know there are more people we can help.”
Early Friday morning, volunteers headed to McCaffrey’s Food Market to buy enough groceries to feed about 300 people for two weeks. They bought fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread, pasta, beans, rice, milk, chicken, beef, and other items. An assembly line of masked and gloved volunteers, practicing social distancing, sorted and bagged the food in the McCaffrey’s parking lot. Volunteers then delivered the food to doorsteps in Princeton, calling or texting residents after they left so they would know the food was there. The next food delivery will be May 1.
The group purchased more than $5,150 worth of food with gift cards and cash donations. McCaffrey’s gave the pantry a 15% discount, plus a $100 gift card. The store manager even contributed $50 our of his own pocket for the effort. After discounts totaling $893, the bill was $4,257.
McCaffrey’s store manager Anthony Sanfilippo helped the group buy and organize items in the store. The grocery store is also a regular supporter of Arm in Arm.
“When we called Anthony, he didn’t miss a beat. He said he would love to help the community,” volunteer Dafna Kendal said, adding that the support of McCaffrey’s helped the group provide more food to more people.
“It’s always a no-brainer donating food to people in need,” Sanfilippo said. “The only question was, would we have all of the product? But we were able to fill about 85% of the order.” He said the buyers for McCaffrey’s markets have been working hard to keep stores well stocked, including purchasing food from restaurant suppliers.
The need for food in the community was apparent just from observing the group in action on Friday for five minutes in the parking lot. A few people who saw the volunteers packing food approached them, asking if they could have some food.
One woman who had just left the grocery store was carrying a small bag with a few items in it, including pasta and tuna. “I’d be grateful if I could just have a few avocados,” she said.
For more information about the Princeton Mobile Food Pantry, to make a donation, or if you live in Princeton and need food, visit the group’s website at https://princetonfoodpantry.wixsite.com/website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.