In the midst of the holiday season, the South Brunswick Food Pantry has been able to meet the needs of the rising number of less fortunate families thanks to the efforts of numerous individuals and businesses.
But one township teen decided to go the extra mile for the pantry by organizing her own food drive at the St. Augustine of Canterbury School in Kendall Park. South Brunswick High School junior Marissa Modi worked with St. A's on a week-long drive and was shocked at the generosity from the school community.
"We asked teachers and students to donate as much as they could. Despite having their own food pantry at the school, when we came back last week to collect the donation box we left, it was completely full and there was another box put next to that one that was filled," Marissa said. "When we put the food into the car, the seats were completely filled and so was the trunk. We were delighted. We've never gotten a response like that with food drives around the neighborhood. It's amazing how generous people are."
Marissa has been volunteering for the pantry for over a year, having organized several food drives around her neighborhood. She said she was driven to get involved after learning about the difficulties the families of many of her fellow students were facing thanks to the recession.
"I know there are people in my school going through a rough time and in need of help," she said. "I decided to help out with some food drives around my neighborhood where I'd leave bags for people to fill with food and leave on their door steps. I did several of those, but then the amount of people who need food increased over the past few months."
Marissa approached local businesses for help and was aided by the Stop&Shop on Route 1 for example, who donated a $25 gift card to allow her to go shopping for needed items. While food drives from students are not out of the ordinary, they're usually performed in conjunction with school projects or to meet volunteer hour requirements. Marissa's work, however, was done entirely of her own accord.
"She's done a lot of stuff for us for the past year," said Social Services Director LouAnne Wolf. "This is a young girl who has done several food drives for us and who has kept involved. A majority of students who help out are doing it for a purpose, like the Scouting for Food program or something. Marissa has done this on her own. She has her heart in the right place and it's wonderful when you have a young person who does things like this on their own time. This is the kind of work that stays with people for the rest of their lives."
The drive comes at a time when the pantry is still helping a record high number of families. Social Services aided over 200 families during Thanksgiving with food boxes, and is expected to help about 230 families by the time Christmas arrives.
"We're fortunate that we'll be able to start making our holiday boxes pretty well stocked," Wolf said. "As of now we're doing well, we just need the usual items we always need like coffee, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, oatmeal, and we really need boxes of rice."
With record high numbers, Wolf said it's thanks to the generosity of the community and the work of volunteers like Marissa that the pantry is able to meet the needs of the less fortunate. For Marissa, the work is simply about lending a helping hand to those who need it.
"It's just nice because you know the food is going to a good place and the work you're doing is beneficial to everyone who lives in South Brunswick, especially during these economic conditions," Marissa said. "With Christmas coming up, everyone is so generous and people are more grateful for what they have, so people are willing to donate. I think after Hurricane Sandy people realized they need to do whatever they can to help out."
To donate or volunteer for South Brunswick Social Services, call 732-329-4000 ext. 7674.