Send Hunger Packing Princeton

Area Nonprofit Believes Children Should Hunger for Knowledge — not Breakfast

By Taylor Smith | Photos courtesy of SHUPPrinceton

Ross Wishnick, chairperson of the Princeton Human Services Commission, remembers a meeting that was held in 2012 to address the problem of hungry kids in the Princeton School System.

Of the Princeton school population, an estimated 14 percent of students receive free or supplemental lunches. Of particular concern to Wishnick and his fellow community members was the fact that these same children who receive supplemental meals during the school week often find themselves food insecure on the weekends and during summer vacations. Studies have proven that improper nutrition negatively affects a child’s ability to concentrate, learn, and ultimately retain information.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 12 million children in the United States live in “food-insecure homes.” The USDA’s annual report on Household Food Security in the United States indicates, “In 2017, the typical food-secure household spent 23 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. About 58 percent of food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps); Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the National School Lunch Program.”

That 2012 meeting provided the impetus for Wishnick to establish the nonprofit organization Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPPrinceton), and its Weekend Food Program involving the distribution of food pantry items to children in grades K-5 to take home over the weekend. This program also includes children at Princeton Nursery School.

SHUPPrinceton board members and volunteers.

Its vision statement, “We believe a child should hunger for knowledge and not breakfast,” was coined by SHUPPrinceton board member and volunteer Bob Rabner.

Both Wishnick, SHUPPrinceton chairman and board member of The Bank of Princeton, and Rabner, owner of Rabner Graphics, are quick to point out that those who simply raise their hand indicating need are assisted. SHUPP is sensitive to any stigma attached to children feeling different from other children, and have no requirements to participate.

The SHUPPrinceton team says they received a lot of initial direction, support, and inspiration from Mercer Street Friends and the Princeton Public School system.

Mercer Street Friends was founded by Quakers in 1958, and today serves more than 20,000 families throughout Mercer County who “face the challenges and impacts of poverty.” “They were the model,” says Wishnick. “We didn’t need to look elsewhere.”

At the Salsa & Salsa fundraiser.

SHUPPrinceton’s first fundraiser took place at Princeton Garden Theatre on June 9, 2013. It featured a screening of the documentary film A Place at the Table and a panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth Hirschhorn Donahue of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Other speakers included writer and director Lori Silverbush; Doug Massey, Office of Population Research, Princeton University; Judy Wilson, superintendent of schools; and school psychologist Edwina Hawes. The Bonner Foundation, Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Jenny and Jon Crumiller, and the Albin Family Foundation were just some of the early supporters.

“We pretty much exist because in 2013 Princeton University and the Bonner Foundation believed in our business plan and provided the first funding that gave us early credibility when asking for subsequent donations,” say Wishnick and Rabner.

SHUPPrinceton’s current efforts include the support and volunteer efforts of Princeton University students, such as Princeton TruckFest, which was initiated by Princeton University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement. The annual event, last held in April, brings more than 15 food trucks and live entertainment to Prospect Avenue. All proceeds go to SHUPP and Meals on Wheels.

At the SHUPPrinceton Friend Raiser.

SHUPPrinceton has also worked with the Princeton Recreation Department, Princeton Family YMCA, and other local organizations to ensure that all school children attending the various summer camp programs run by these organizations have access to free food services.

“We aren’t the source of the food, but we are the connection to the food,” emphasizes Wishnick. Thanks to SHUPPrinceton’s funding, campers at the Princeton Recreation Department are provided access to lunches with no questions asked.

“Terhune Orchards and Cherry Grove Organic Farm have been wonderful at offering fresh fruit and produce to the children and their families during the summer months,” says Wishnick. “As is the case with many food pantry services, the food we distribute has a shelf life and storage is always an issue.  During the summer months SHUPP volunteers frequent the Princeton Farmers Market on Thursdays to redistribute the very desirable produce not available during the school year.”

As a connector, SHUPPrinceton points out that they frequently receive phone calls or requests from Princeton residents when there is a food need or a crisis. Recently, the 2018 fire at the Griggs Farm apartments left 35 residents homeless, and SHUPPrinceton responded immediately. Thanks to SHUPPrinceton’s work with Arm in Arm Food Pantry, Trenton Crisis Ministry, Nassau Presbyterian Church, and others, many otherwise precarious food shortage situations have been temporarily stabilized.

As a nonprofit, SHUPPrinceton depends upon the skills, persistence, ingenuity, and participation of volunteers like Wendy Regina-Vasquez, a mother of five whose children all attended the Princeton Public Schools. With over 20 years of marketing and sales management experience, she brings a well-utilized skill set in addressing the needs of Princeton Public School children.

Closely allied organizations include The Cornelia & Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, Princeton Public Schools, Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton Public Library, United Way, Princeton Human Services Department, Princeton Children’s Fund, Mercer Street Friends, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton Area Community Foundation, Princeton University, and the Princeton Recreation Department.

In particular, for the past five years, Princeton Public Library has welcomed SHUPPrinceton to Hinds Plaza for its annual fundraising event, the most recent of which, Fall Fest, took place on Sunday, September 15.

Donations to SHUPPrinceton are welcome, and all proceeds go towards feeding Princeton’s food insecure children. For more information, visit https://shupprinceton.org, email info@SHUPPrinceton.org or call (609) 285-3233.

At the Fill the Bowls fundraiser.