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Giving thanks for food banks

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Restaurant and Foodservice

Thanksgiving is the holiday we associate most with sharing a meal with loved ones, and if some years the table is less crowded with either food or good company, we feel the loss even as we give thanks for the gifts we have.

This week, I wrote about how the commercial supply chain has gotten much better at supplying stores and foodservice businesses before and after a storm such as Sandy, which killed 121 people and destroyed the homes of countless others in and around my home state of New Jersey. My family and I are lucky: We were without power for days, some of us more days than others, but our homes are intact. The nor’easter left us with only a few inches of snow, which melted soon after the sun came out. Gas rationing has ended, and we’re getting back to normal. We’ll sit down to our traditional Thanksgiving meal a bit more thankful for all that we have and probably more aware than we were last year that, prepare as we do, many things in life are out of our control.

While stores and restaurants are getting back to normal, it’s been much tougher for food banks and other organizations charged with feeding a population that was already struggling before the storm hit, according to NPR station WNYC. Like my family, The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties was a bit luckier than many of its neighbors. A generator that was up and running five days before the storm saved 10,000 turkeys the food bank had stockpiled in advance of Thanksgiving, Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez said. Since the storm, the food bank has handed out 575,000 pounds of food, about twice what it normally would have distributed.

Many of the 260 anti-poverty programs that the food bank serves, which in turn serve towns by the Jersey Shore, weren’t as lucky. Project PAUL lost the interior of its building and must figure out how to provide clients with Thanksgiving dinner.

Other food banks are struggling as well. Interfaith Food Pantry in Parsippany, N.J., has seen increased demand for Thanksgiving turkeys since the storm, while supply dwindles, partly because supermarkets had to throw away many refrigerated items after the power went out, reported.

Chefs, restaurateurs and others who see feeding people as part of their mission have found a way to help out, whether it’s family and friends who fed us when their power came back on first, eateries that opened right after the storm and shared their scant supplies or restaurants that have participated in fundraisers to help people recover.

And, of course, the food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and church basements that were struggling to feed the hungry even before Mother Nature’s latest curveball. Feeding America has delivered 4.9 million meals to food banks serving areas affected by superstorm Sandy, and the national organization has raised $1 million from corporate partners. Feeding America’s website has links to food-bank partners nationwide and instructions on how to help out.

Have you or your restaurant participated in any programs to make this holiday season a little brighter for those in need? Tell us in the comments.