New Brunswick, New Jersey is the home of Rutgers University, one of the top 100 higher education institutions in the world. It is also home to high poverty rates, with 31 percent of the city’s population of 55,000 living in poverty and over 40 percent experiencing some food insecurity. In 1989, three local churches came together to respond to the community’s need for food assistance with a soup kitchen called Elijah’s Promise. Today, while Elijah’s Promise still provides food to the community, their focus is on using food as a tool for change. With community food security as their goal, the organization fights to end hunger through promoting good food for all, providing education and job training for the food industry, and creating social enterprise food businesses that help build a better world.
Part culinary school, part soup kitchen, part catering company, part grocery, part pay-what-you-can café, Elijah’s Promise is 100 percent focused on the community.
Last year, WhyHunger provided direct support to Elijah’s Promise, helping to strengthen their Sustainable Healthy Kitchen initiative, a community center and soup kitchen that serves over 100,000 meals each year, sourcing local produce when available. The initiative also includes a food program for people living with HIV/AIDS in the surrounding community. Because of the recent recession and cuts to the food assistance programs SNAP and WIC, demand for their soup kitchen services has increased.
On a recent visit to Elijah’s Promise, WhyHunger staff had the pleasure of meeting Chef Pam Johnson. Chef Pam was a guest at the Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen long before getting her job as Head Chef. A teenage mom, Pam struggled with drug addiction and homelessness in her youth and relied on the Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen to get by. After going through the difficult process of recovery, she enrolled in the Elijah’s Promise culinary school, which prepared her with profiessional training to work as a cook. After a few years of working in the industry, Pam returned to accept her current job as Head Chef.
While giving a tour of the kitchen to WhyHunger’s Suzanne Babb, Pam explained her approach to engaging with the 300-350 people that visit each day, “We are going to treat them with dignity and serve them with dignity because that is what people deserve.”
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