Building up a New Jersey community through food and service

- To most young people, the end of school is time to celebrate the summer, freedom and fun.

But, to some, no school means no lunch.

One community is making sure thousands of young people get a healthy and free mean every day.

A community activist, Nina Young is always looking for ways to help young people in her city.

“Bridgeton has over 5000 kids that get fed through the school system. In the summer, only 500 kids were being fed,” said Young.

When the summer starts, most young people just celebrate the fact that they don’t have to go to school, which makes it really easy to forget that, for some, the end of school means the end of free meals.

Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly wants to make sure people stay focused on that issue.

“The elation of having school closed and kids are off for the summer time, but they forget that students still need to eat. The summer time is probably the hungriest time of the year for our students,” said Mayor Kelly.

Mayor Kelly is talking about the lack of access to food in Bridgeton, but honestly it could be Philly, Camden or any city with high poverty levels. No school means no meals. People know the problem. A solution is needed.

So, Ms Young and her Next Generation of Community leaders got to work. 

“We were asked to go out and find young people ages 14 to 20 who wanted to make a difference in their community,” said Young.

And, that’s how the healthy food express got started. Every day during the summer, the bus travels to several locations, sets up what ends up looking like a summer picnic and feeds a healthy lunch to anyone 18 and under.

Getting the meals to those who need them is an obvious positive, but what also stood out is the people involved. You’ve got young people like Josue Ruiz breaking stereotypes by committing their time to build up neighborhoods.

“A lot of communities these days, they lack leaders. So, you build them up early and they are the next board men, the next mayors, the next presidents and so on and so forth and we need people like that in our offices that get to know communities very well,” said Josue Ruiz.

Mayor Kelly daily steps away from press conferences and other official events and getting to work for the people who elected him.

“I believe in knocking on doors, cleaning playgrounds, wiping off tables, serving neighborhoods, yes,” said Mayor Kelly.

And, above all, there are people who get a free meal or bag of groceries they may need without being made to feel less than because these lunches are set up to celebrate and unite community, not stigmatize those who may have less.

Josue says that their responses are priceless.

“They see us pull up and they know when they get the food, it’s not just gonna be the food, it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be activities, it’s gonna be music. There’s a lot more to it,” said Ruiz.

Everyone from the local school district to several non-profits sponsor the Bridgeton Healthy Food Express which should be a message to every community with a similar issue. Nothing about this program is difficult to recreate, if we care enough to do it. For goodness’ sake. 
 

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