Hunger in NJ: School staff team up to keep students fed

This is an installment of “Hunger in NJ,” a series produced by NJTV News and NJ Spotlight on food insecurity, a condition facing thousands of families in New Jersey, often forcing them to choose between paying the bills and putting enough food on the table.

A desire to help started with teacher Shannon King cooking hot meals in her kitchen and then making delivery runs with her friend and school football coach Kris Parker.

“We try to serve about 40 families each time we go out and we give four servings of food per family. So they usually get a meal every seven to 10 days, each family. We have 150 families now on the list,” King said.

King and Parker reach out to local schools in their community to see who need food each week. They then shop, cook and map out a delivery route.

“It’s just overwhelming for us to see how happy people are just to receive the basics,” Parker said.

They discovered most of the students they help have parents who lost jobs during the pandemic and are waiting for benefits, struggling to figure out how to keep food on the table.

The duo soon realized they weren’t alone in their desire to lend a hand. Now, police officers, teachers, students and even a former New York Giants football player are volunteering to deliver meals.

“Glad we were able to help out and be apart of what this is all about,” said former Giants player Rasheed Simmons, who also owns Simply Southern Cuisine.

Now it’s not just a hot meal arriving on the doorstep, but a weeks supply of food and essentials from a garage turned food pantry.

Families experiencing hardships want to remain anonymous, but one story demonstrates how much they appreciate the community’s support.

“We got a text message the other night from two little kids, a picture of two little kids eating food that we had bought them in front of the pantry food saying, ‘Tanks so much. My family doesn’t have to worry tonight.’ How do you not keep going?” King said.

Some say it takes a village to raise a child, but these two say they’re just trying to feed our future.

Support for “Hunger in NJ” has been provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.