As we put the finishing touches on our holiday menus, buy those last minute gifts, and string up the last set of Christmas lights, it’s easy to be full of gratitude. But for many, right in our own neighborhoods, holidays don’t mean a full belly, which is how a few community members joined together to make a difference.
“It was right after Superstorm Sandy and I was sitting at Boston’s when I saw two kids walk in,” said Cliff Baker, co-founder of If There Is A Need, We Will Feed and a retired Navy officer. “Turns out they were here helping us rebuild. I asked them what they were doing for Thanksgiving and they said they didn’t have a place to go. It was then that I said we have a meal for you.”
A chance meeting with two military volunteers led to a partnership between Baker, a restaurant consultant of Singer Equipment Company and Chef Mike Jurusz of Chef Mike’s ABG in Seaside Park. Baker and Jurusz, along with the help of Christine Hernandez, “the heart and soul of the organization,” Michelle Jones who’s responsible for organizing and recruiting volunteers, as well as countless volunteers, organizations, and restaurants has helped If There Is A Need We Will Feed prepare 350 meals their first year in 2012 to emergency responders to over 1,500 meals this past Thanksgiving.
The non-profit works with local restaurants, stores, and organizations to prepare, package, and deliver meals to those in need including the homeless and veterans over Thanksgiving and Christmas in Ocean County. Local organizations including the Toms River East football team and local Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts have lent a hand from packaging cutlery to making portion sized cranberry and gravy packages.
This Thanksgiving over 50 volunteers showed up at Café Italia in Toms River to begin to prepare warm meals that are then over 75 drivers will deliver to countless homes.Partnerships with Stop & Shop in Fair Lawn and Toms River have led additional donations from Gold Medal, Coca Cola, and Bimbo Bakery who have provided meats, breads, and pies.
The list of donating restaurants and organizations continues to grow. Just this Thanksgiving they received: 48 turkeys from Café Italia in Toms River , 1,000 drinks from Ocean Spray, 8 cooked and carved turkeys from Redds Biergarten in Newark, 200lbs of mashed potatoes and 12 cooked and carved turkeys from Waypoint 622 in Brielle, 100lbs of mashed potatoes from Bum Rogers in Seaside Park, 6 turkeys from Bob’s Bagel Café in Toms River, 800lbs of mashed potatoes from Caffrey’s Tavern in Forked River, 300lbs of mixed vegetables from Mulligan’s in Farmingdale, 6 turkeys from Ohana Grill in Lavallette, and $500 worth of hams from Driscoll Foods. Just to name a few!
Now that’s a lot of food, but it’s never enough.
“Year after year it’s such a good thing to be able to do,” said Baker. “However, it’s also very sad to see how many people need help just in this area. Each year more and more organizations contact us, asking to help feed their members.”
With Christmas a week away, Baker and his group of volunteers are beginning to organize the raw food and find restaurants to cook and carve the turkeys. Volunteers are getting ready to show up once more at Café Italia on Christmas morning.
“It’s a full community effort,” said Baker who is adding a Toys for Tots component to the Christmas donation this year. “We just won’t say no to anyone.”
For more information on volunteering or to donate to If There Is A Need, We Will Feed, visit their webpage or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.