School Lunches: Do The Portions Satisfy A Child’s Hunger?

By Ashbel Soto & Jon Hall

Food insecurity has become a major issue in Trenton, affecting the lives of families and children. Many children rely on school lunches for much of their dietary needs. The government has enacted a federal program to ensure that students in public schools do not go hungry. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, free or low cost lunches to children every day. Its main objective is to provide a well balanced meal to students in an attempt to better their health and academic achievement. Many students who come from low-income families qualify for free or reduced lunch if they meet the criteria on the application provided by the Trenton Board of Education. The Trenton Central High Chambers released that about 58 percent of the student body population in the Trenton school district get free or reduced lunch. The NSLP requires that students meet a certain income bracket to qualify for free or reduced lunch. That income bracket ranges depending on the number of people per household. If there are two members in your household, then your average income should be $21,257. There are students who do not meet the income bracket, but they still cannot afford to pay the $2.57 daily for lunch meals in the Trenton Public Schools. Kadelta Sykes, the supervisor of Eickhoff Dining Hall and the supervisor of Food Services for Parker Elementary in Trenton, stated that the number of applicants for the free or reduced lunch program is increasing. “If most parents qualify for food stamps, then they are able to get free or reduced lunch,” said Sykes. “Most kids are ashamed to say they are on food stamps or free or reduced lunch, but it’s okay when you need the meal. Most parents fight for their kids to be accepted into the free or reduced lunch program because it lessens the burden of them having to pay for it.” Although every child receives a meal, are the portions adequate to satisfy a child’s hunger?  “The portions are adequate because we provide fresh vegetables, hot vegetables, canned fruit, fresh fruit, juice and milk,” Sykes said. “We give children enough food for a lunch meal and fresh food to give them the nutrients they need.” There are also students who pay for lunch, but may sometimes not be able to afford it. “Most students do not pay for lunch, but those who do and cannot pay for lunch that day, we give them a cheese sandwich and fresh vegetables,” said Sykes. “Parker elementary has a program that requires students to have fresh fruits and vegetables with their meals. Often times, students ask for cheese sandwiches instead of a regular meal, so we prepare enough cheese sandwiches for the day to make sure there is enough for everyone. Our goal is to ensure that no student is left behind or hungry.” According to the Trenton School Board, there are approximately 200 students in the Trenton Public School system who are experiencing homelessness and often worry about when their next meal will be. Most students depend on school meals to feed them since they do not have cooked meals at home on a daily basis. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture stated that one of the objectives of the national school lunch program is to provide onethird of the recommended dietary allowances for lunch. However, there are students within the Trenton Public Schools who say the quality of the food is not appetizing enough for them. “I didn’t really eat school lunch. I would skip lunch most of the time and would wait till I got home to eat,” said a current junior biology major here at The College of New Jersey, who is a former student from Trenton West High School. “However, when I did eat the school lunch, the portions were okay to meet my needs.” She believes that the Trenton Board of Education should attempt to improve the quality of the lunches. Sykes has a different opinion on the quality of the food in Trenton Public Schools. “Every year the quality of the food gets better,” Sykes said. “ At first, fresh fruits and vegetables were only delivered two times a week. Now, delivery with fresh produce comes in four times a week. The cafeteria cannot sell snacks that are not state approved.

As of right now, we also sell baked chips to students with their lunches, which is healthier.” Food insecurity in Trenton has become an issue affecting the student body population. Trenton does not have many local or nearby grocery stores for many Mercer County residents, which makes it impossible for families without vehicles to go grocery shopping. Studies have shown that Trenton only has about three local supermarkets, which forces residents to reside on local fast food chains or bodegas (corner stores). This food desert problem in Trenton affects students academically because students find themselves skipping breakfast at home, giving them little room to focus on their school work and more on their hunger. The NSLP also provides breakfast for students, which satisfies their nutritional needs, enhances their attention span, allowing them to succeed academically. When a student’s hunger is satisfied, it gives them more room to concentrate on what is occurring in class and encourages them to participate more. However, Trenton Public Schools serve breakfast during a certain time frame, which many students have a hard time meeting. Students who take the bus are not liable for their late arrival to school. The school kitchen does not serve breakfast after the time is up — leaving students hungry. Sykes said that although students arrive late to school, most of the time, there are extra snacks left from breakfast that students are able to have. She added that if a child walks into the cafeteria after breakfast has been served, they’re allowed to get juice and a snack to take with them. Although there are many different views on the Trenton Public Schools food distribution, schools are ensuring that the children’s hunger needs are met. With an 11.9 percent poverty rate in the Mercer County area, it is probable that the number of children on free or reduced lunch will increase. The Trenton school district is doing everything to ensure that their children have the proper healthy meals each day.

Rescue Mission Tackles Technology On The Job

By Miranda Chrone

Hungry, cold, alone, afraid, and sick; these are just a few words that come to our minds when we hear the term homelessness. And yet, homelessness is more than just this stereotypical image; and its impact is much more complex and widespread. In addition to food and financial insecurity, homelessness also affects one’s accessibility to technology and its advances. The digital divide is the “socioeconomic and other disparities between those people who have opportunities and skills enabling them to benefit from digital resources, especially the Internet, and those who do not have these opportunities or skills.” Not having accessibility to the Internet or social media leaves these individuals at a disadvantage in a technologydriven world. In response to this issue, the Rescue Mission of Trenton has created the TEACH program, which provides tutoring, GED preparation and most importantly, computer skills. Sheila Scott, a former coordinator of TEACH, explained that the program thrives on the great quality of their volunteers. “The program would not be viable without our volunteers, they are a major part of the program,” said Scott. “The results of the program are fantastic and I only see more success stories to come.” Technology has been consuming our lives for years now and it is becoming nearly impossible to live without. Everyday things such as checking email, surfing the internet or even applying for a job, all rely heavily on access to technology and being able to use it. Without the help of organizations in cities that experience the most homelessness, the digital divide would keep growing further and further apart. The TEACH program is great because it does not just focus on one thing; whatever the individual in need is interested in, they have volunteers waiting to help. The program also provides individuals with access to a number of other valuable life skills. It has even recruited volunteers who work with patrons on job placement and interview preparation. This sort of training prepares them for real life experiences that involve the use of technology. Zane Gaines, a resident at Rescue Mission stated, “The program’s mock interview prepared me extremely well for my successful interview with Dick’s Sporting Goods. The practice questions were just like the ones I was asked in my interview.” Since there is a such an interest in learning how to use the different types of technology, Ida Malloy, the life skills counselor at Rescue Mission, explained that they need volunteers with computer expertise, in particular. Our lives center around computers, iPhones and tablets more and more everyday. And while many of us have access to this technology and can easily put it to use, others need our help and support to overcome the technological barriers of the digital divide.

Rescue Mission of Trenton 98 Carroll Street Trenton, NJ 08609 Phone: (609) 695-1436


Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy

By Anna Mucciarone

While walking down a bustling city street in the morning, you might pass some people who are talking loudly into their phone and others with headphones plugged into both ears, listening to music. As you’re walking, you might even take out your own phone to send a few quick text messages before arriving at your destination. What you might not notice while walking down the street is the number of people you pass that aren’t using a phone, possibly because they can’t afford one. In today’s society, most people tend to focus more on the growing technology addiction than the reality of the digital divide. While Internet access is a rite of passage for many people, there is a portion of the population that can’t afford to buy the latest iPhone or Internet connection. For those that live in Mercer County, evidence of the digital divide is apparent right in their backyards. Of the 85,000 citizens that call Trenton home, a significant number do not own a computer. With the Internet becoming more of a staple in our society every year, these families are being limited to what they can participate in with regards to school and their careers. For the families of Trenton and surrounding areas that find themselves in this situation, a section of the non-profit organization Mercer Street Friends may be able to help. This program, called the Trenton Digital Initiative (TDI), is working to slowly end the digital divide in the local community by distributing free computers to families that are in need of one. At its start, the Trenton Digital Initiative was a small idea being launched by tech-savvy founders, Dave Zboray and Glenn Paul. “We were just talking about how we could use our computer skills to help others,” said Zboray, who is now an IT specialist at Mercer Street Friends. “We came up with the idea we called ‘100 Computers for 100 Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy Families,’ which we would later rename the ‘Trenton Digital Initiative.’” Since it began in 2012, TDI has established a partnership with Mercer Street Friends and distributed 350 computers to families in need. In addition, TDI works to educate both youth and adults on basic computer skills. “We didn’t want to just hand out computers,” said Zboray, emphasizing the importance of offering these classes.  “So we have included training with each computer we distribute.” The computer education classes are offered through the Youth Services Program and Parenting Program at Mercer Street Friends. By signing up for either set of classes, families gain the opportunity to expand their knowledge of computers and technology. Another major concern for families that are struggling to make ends meet is being able to afford a stable Internet connection. With help from TDI, those families can connect to a special plan offered by Comcast. For just $9.95 per month, they can put their computers to use. The mission Statement for Mercer Street Friends is, “Bridging opportunity gaps…helping families and communities make the journey out of poverty.” TDI exemplifies this statement by providing local families with the opportunity to take home a computer of their own and support their Internet connection with an affordable plan. With each computer they distribute, the Trenton Digital Initiative is helping to end the digital divide within the Trenton community.

Mercer Street Friends 151 Mercer Street, Trenton, NJ 08611 Phone: (609) 396-1506

Mercer Is First NJ County To End Veteran Homelessness

By Jared Wolf

As of December 2015, Mercer County accomplished its mission to provide shelter for every homeless veteran seeking assistance. This makes it the latest community to respond to the nationwide challenge to end veteran homelessness that had been issued in 2010 by First Lady Michelle Obama. The city of Trenton, in conjunction with Mercer County, first addressed the issue in early 2015, with a joint effort from other veteran and non-profit organizations, which included Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness. The collaborators worked closely together to seek out each of the veterans in need. Many of these patrons came through the Rescue Mission of Trenton, as well as other organizations across Mercer County. The county and city has achieved what is being called “functional zero.” This is defined as having the processes and resources in place to immediately house a veteran. When the movement first began last year, there were 79 homeless veterans in the area. Through a systematic screening process and partnerships with Soldier On, Community Hope and other veteran programs and housing providers, the veterans were promptly afforded the services they required most. According to Mercer Alliance to End Homelessnese, of the 79 veterans who were offered assistance, only two remain without permanent housing. Housing is available to them, but they have declined for undisclosed reasons.

Mercer Is First NJ County To End Veteran Homelessness By Jared Wolf Kevin Bryson, a sophomore at The College of New Jersey and a yearly recipient of the ROTC scholarship, reflected on the recent feat, stating “I think that as a nation, our veterans can often be overlooked and underappreciated, and to see our county act so proactively for these people is truly something to be proud of.” Mercer County has long utilized a “housing first” strategy, which prioritizes putting those people in need into permanent housing, subsequently providing them with the resources to combat substance abuse, and offering them mental health counseling. Ultimately, the goal for these veterans is to be able to use their new housing as a tool for a better future. While Mercer County should be proud of this accomplishment, it is important to understand the plight of homeless veterans remains problematic nationwide. Someone who is not homeless today might be homeless tomorrow — homelessness is a fluid issue and must be treated as such. “We as a community owe it to these struggling veterans to provide the necessary care and aid so that they can transition back into society as smoothly as possible,” Bryson said. This is a great first step for Mercer County and for the state of New Jersey as a whole. Veterans should remain high-priority, as it is the only way to ensure that we, as a community, do not walk away from the goal that the First Lady set out for us to achieve.

Isles Promotes Self-Reliance

By Annette Espinoza

Sprouting from Wood Street in Central Trenton, Isles is an organization focused on supporting families and communities in the area. The program’s ideals have not changed since it was first established by a group of enthusiastic students from Princeton University in 1981. Hoping to rebuild what was damaged while upholding the vibrant and persistent spirit of the Trenton community, these students came in with big ideas that are now the basis for the organization’s efforts and work. Working alongside other local organizations and groups, Isles focuses on four elements in their plight to build thriving, stable communities: educating communities and training individuals, revitalizing the community, building community wealth and promoting healthy living. As the pillars to their organizations, these four focal points have already mobilized hundreds of eager volunteers. Together, this group of individuals creates and implements projects that facilitate community progress. Such projects include rescuing families who face foreclosure, restoring and establishing an art house, planting community gardens, among many others. These initiatives address many of Trenton’s biggest challenges. “From [the] beginning Isles kept asking and testing a basic question: What are the most effective ways to promote self-reliance and healthy communities while building on the assets that are already there?” reads its brochure. “It’s an effort to support the Trenton area but, also, an effort that considers the bigger picture,” John Korp, Isles’ director of community planning and development, said.