Above: Mrs. Markus’ 5th grade class at Hope Elementary School along with the Foodshed Alliance’s LocalShare team.

From left, Christine Parauda, LocalShare program coordinator, Lianne Markus, and Shannon Black, LocalShare program assistant.

By Jamie Bacher, Foodshed Alliance Intern

On January 23, the second day of my Foodshed Alliance internship, I was assigned to “shadow” Christine Parauda, coordinator of the organization’s LocalShare program. Christine met me at the park-and-ride with a truck packed with apples gleaned from Race Farm in Blairstown. We had a lot to do that day: deliveries at a food pantry, the Women, Infants and Children program, and a visit to the Hope Elementary School. I was about to see the Foodshed Alliance in action.*

We arrived at the Roxbury Food Pantry, and the parking lot was packed. As we unloaded the apples, we were greeted happily by workers, volunteers and clients. Inside the pantry, there was a young boy quietly playing with his glasses. When he saw the apples, he got very excited. We brought the boxes in, including apples for the Jersey Battered Women’s Services in Morris County, which would pick them up later that day. LocalShare works hard to coordinate deliveries among social service agencies so that the food gets distributed quickly and efficiently. After getting the food pantry staff to sign off that the apples had been received, we were off to our next site.

We headed off to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in Newton, a new and important partnership for LocalShare since WIC provides supplemental nutrition and other health services to low-income women with young children throughout the nation. To streamline distribution, the WIC staff in Newton will deliver LocalShare produce to their facilities in Hackettstown and Phillipsburg as well.  

When we arrived at the WIC office in the basement of First United Methodist Church, the desk assistant was thrilled when she saw the apples. Although they had only requested three boxes, Christine offered them three more which they immediately accepted. They would set up a table for the kids to have easy access to them. Once more, paperwork was filled out and we were off.

Our final stop was at the Hope Elementary School. Fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Markus, a regular volunteer with LocalShare, invited us to speak to her class about our work to fight hunger, reduce food waste, and provide healthier food options to the local area. As we drove to the school, I learned that some children in her classroom often arrived at school with an empty stomach. In response, LocalShare provided boxes of apples for the kids at school, and now the children were about to learn more about where these apples come from.

As we arrived, the class had just finished up a lesson about hunger and its impact on the community. Many of the students were already well informed on the subject, talking about how 1 in 5 children don’t know where their next meal will come from. They compared that equation to their class size, which made them aware that some of their peers may be dealing with hunger. They also calculated how many hungry people there are in the United States as a whole. Earlier that day, the students drew images to represent hunger–an empty plate, a hole in a person’s stomach, supermarkets out of reach, and so on. To me, these students were incredibly smart, and aware of the subject and current food crisis both here in the U.S as well as in the world.

Addressing the class, Christine explained how LocalShare harvests or “gleans” fresh produce from local farms that would otherwise go to waste and delivers it to those in need. She told the children about how this perfectly good food would normally go to waste simply because of a small bump or bruise. These fruits and veggies were not considered grade “A” and not good enough to be sold. The class was very intrigued by this, especially after apples were passed around that had “imperfections” on them. The children did not mind the fact that these apples were slightly off-color, or had an extra bump. They would still taste good and be nutritious!

Christine explained how important volunteers were to the LocalShare program—in 2019, they gleaned and delivered more than 98,000 lbs. of fresh food to those in need. This work could not be done without volunteers and their continued support. As the lesson wrapped up, Mrs. Markus had the students stand up and pretend to be apple trees, raising their “branches” and imagine dropping apples, and asking any final questions. Before we said goodbye, we distributed apples we brought along with a special treat! Some of our volunteers had made apple sauce from gleaned apples, which we shared with the class. It was a big hit!

As we left the school, I was very happy to see so many young children learning about these important issues in the community, as well as the steps that the Foodshed Alliance is continuously taking to make a more positive impact and establish connections to benefit our local food system and the surrounding community.

–Jamie Bacher is a senior at Montclair State University, majoring in Nutrition and Food Science with a concentration in Food Systems. She is vice president of the school’s Food Recovery Network.

*Editor’s note: Jamie shadowed only part of LocalShare’s work that day. Shannon Black, LocalShare program assistant, picked up a load of apples from Race Farm that morning and met two volunteers in White Township. One volunteer delivered apples to Catholic Charities in Phillipsburg and another made a delivery to a food pantry in Plainfield.