Category Archives: Sufficiency

Homelessness: Everyone in Life is Only One Step Away

By Lisa McMillon

I worked at a nursing home for 12 years, the longest that I have ever kept a job. I thought I was going to retire with that job. I had a great 401k plan, four weeks paid vacation and all the bells and whistles that come with job longevity. My boss started bringing in family members who were recent college graduates and asked the staff to help train them in various departments.


At first, everyone went with the program. However, slowly but steadily they started laying off employees and the family members starting getting various positions. I thought I should be safe. I had been with the company for 12 years; staying overnight in winter emergencies and filling in when they did not have adequate staff coverage. And then it happened. I was feeling very leery, butterflies in my stomach, when the boss informed me that they didn’t have adequate funding. They would be laying off some employees, and I was one of them. I was in shock and total astonishment.


“How could this happen to me?”


I later found out that the dietary aide that I was training, so that I could take vacation, would be filling my position. I was making $15.00 an hour and they paid her $9.75. I applied for unemployment, but this took some time to process. My bills were accumulating and I started falling behind on my rent, PSE&G bill and other living expenses. I started going to local food banks. My pride was consuming me.


“How could this happen to me?”


I gave my landlord my last four unemployment checks, and explained to him that I was waiting for an extension. A week later, I got a court ordered eviction notice.


“How could this happen to me?”


I went to court and got a 30-day hardship stay as I had been living there for 11 years. I was praying that my unemployment would come through. But after 30 days, I was evicted from my apartment. My unemployment check came through after I was evicted, so that money was consumed while staying with various relatives and at hotels.


But as soon as you don’t have any money, people make you feel unwelcome. I had to split up my family, stay at various places because of my monetary situation and spend most of my money so that my child could stay in a stable environment. It was heart-wrenching.


“I was homeless!”


I got a job at a friendly restaurant and was getting paid partial unemployment. I went from 100 to zero real quick. I hated leaving my son at night, hated splitting up, but I had to do what I had to scratch a meager living. I would go without eating properly sometimes just so that he could eat. In between working, I would apply for jobs every morning for nine months. I searched for housing and a decent job. I finally found an apartment, put the deposit down, but that was delayed because an elderly man’s house caught fire and he had to live in the apartment temporarily. Another setback.


"Swirl Face"  By Derrick Branch
“Swirl Face”
By Derrick Branch

My mother called me one day. She was always encouraging me to pray. I was becoming desolate.


“When is the Lord going to answer my prayers?”


Slowly, the miracles started happening. I got a job offer. I immediately accepted the position. I was ecstatic when the woman informed me that I could start in two weeks. I started the job, and loved it. I got off to a rough start, very rough, but I endured.


I was talking to one of my supervisors one day and she asked me, “Are you okay? You look very stressed.”


I replied, “I’m OK.” She then asked me if she could pray for me, and I said, “Yes.” She prayed, and I started to cry. She was adamant, “What’s wrong, Lisa?”


“I’m homeless,” I said. “I’m grateful for my job, but I need an apartment so me and my child can live together.”


She said, “Why didn’t you tell someone about your situation?”


She started to help me mentally and materially. Then I got a second job. She told me to keep the faith — it’s coming. I was working both jobs and checked with the apartment complex daily. The landlord called me about three months later and said, “Lisa, I have good news and bad news. The older gentleman will be relocating to the Senior Center, but the apartment hasn’t been painted.”


I told her, “I just need my own place. I’ll take it, they can paint it later.” She said she would have to get a lock for the apartment. The first night, she said she didn’t have time to get it. She called me the second night and said the same thing. I hung up the phone on her. She called me back and said to look out the window. I looked up and she was dangling some keys. I left the chicken in the fryer. I was crying and happy at the same time.


It was over.


I had a decent job and an apartment. I lived in that apartment for a whole month without cable or television. Just a couch and a bed. I was just happy to have a place to call home again.


As for the job, I’m still working there and it has gotten better with time. I have an extended family and friends, and I’m doing what I love: cooking. Come see me! The food is fantastic, and you can get anything from soup to nuts for free. You can even get deodorant and soap! I invite you to come dine with me at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.

Building a Network: Food Waste and Recovery

The problems facing those currently experiencing homelessness are wide and varied. Among these complex and multi-layered social and political issues, the widespread problem of food waste has been gaining particular attention in recent years. According to a recent USDA report published in 2014, 31 percent of available food in the U.S. (or 133 billion pounds / 430 billion pounds) is wasted or discarded of each year.

For the homeless community, food waste represents a very serious threat and presents particular challenges to nonprofits trying to end hunger. Interestingly, the vast amount of food wasted each year is not only the result of poor planning and negligence, but also stems from legislation that makes it increasingly difficult to give leftover food to the homeless.

A report published by the National Coalition to End Homelessness (NCH) in 2014 titled “Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People in Need,” touches on the structural problem, highlighting three main ways in which legislative action has led to food waste. The first has to do with cities placing strong restrictions on the use of public property, forcing groups to buy a permit to distribute food to the needy in places like public parks. The second legislative barrier consists of the stringent food safety regulations that groups must follow if they wish to distribute food. The final and most significant barrier has been the “Not in my back yard” (NIMBY) mentality, which is often used to prevent groups that help those experiencing homelessness from entering communities.

Groups like the NCH are now spearheading a movement to enact legislative reform in the area of food sharing legislation, eventually hoping to make it easier to provide food to those in need.

On a grassroots level, groups like the Food Recovery Network (FRN), are also making significant progress in alleviating food waste and improving distribution.

Started in 2011 by three students at the University of Maryland College, FRN aims to fight food waste and hunger by organizing college students to donate leftover food on campuses to local soup kitchens and other nonprofits. Since its creation in 2011, FRN has expanded to 95 colleges across 26 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

"Love Life"  By Samantha Rivera
“Love Life”
By Samantha Rivera

Most recently, students at The College of New Jersey have started organizing a chapter of FRN in hopes of helping to solve the food waste issue in Mercer County. Student leader Gavin Parker first became interested in starting FRN at the College after it was assigned as the final project of his Social Justice First Seminar Program (FSP) taught by philosophy professor Dr. Morton Winston.

Parker and his classmates have been working with Sodexo, the food provider for the College, to work out practical issues, such as how food with be transported and how food safety training will be administered. The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is currently onboard as a community partner for FRN at the College.

Explaining the origins of the idea to bring FRN to the College, Winston explained that he was “looking for a project for the class…that would enable them to tackle a real social justice issue and do something to address it.”

Although the issue of food waste still looms large, the combined legislative and grassroots efforts will likely help to reduce the staggering figure of 133 billion pounds of food that is wasted each year nationally. For the homeless community, few issues are more important than ensuring that food is distributed in the most efficient and resourceful way possible. Along with important social and economic reforms, the elimination of food waste will be critical in solving the related issues of poverty and hunger.


Article written by Steven P. Rodriguez for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall
















Elijah’s Promise: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Among the many non-profit organizations fighting homelessness, poverty and food insecurity in New Jersey is Elijah’s Promise, an organization nestled in New Brunswick. It was first established in 1989 when three local churches (St. John’s Episcopal, Emanuel Lutheran and Christ Episcopal of New Brunswick) joined together to start a small soup kitchen.

Today, however, the organization’s efforts extend far beyond a single soup kitchen. After two decades in operation, this once small soup kitchen serves about 100,000 meals every year and the organization’s other services serve just as much.

In 1997 Elijah’s Promise began a culinary arts training program called Promise Culinary School. Here, students are exposed to a professional culinary curriculum that prepares them for and places them in jobs in the foodservice industry.

Jim Zullo, Executive Director of Elijah’s Promise, estimates that the school graduates approximately 50 students every year and that 95% of these graduates go on to find jobs in the food industry. And although tuition is required, the school offers financial assistance, and the tuition oftentimes is covered in full if you are unemployed, a veteran, a displaced worker or have a disability.

“Seeing individuals who have endured so much hardship and been faced with the most difficult of circumstances find a new vigor in the food industry is extremely satisfying,” Zullo said.

Elijah’s Promise has also collaborated with Who Is My Neighbor? Incorporated to create A Better World Café — a restaurant that makes healthy eating affordable.

The Café, located in the Quilt Room of the Reformed Church in Highland Park, follows a model introduced by the One World Everybody Eats foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City, Utah that allows patrons to “pay what they can” at any of its community kitchens and restaurants.

At A Better World Café, diners who cannot afford the full price of their food can volunteer an hour of time in exchange for their meal. They can also dine on the complimentary dish of the day if they can neither pay nor volunteer.

In speaking of the environment that both the soup kitchen and the café promotes, Zullo said, “The great thing about our soup kitchen and our café is that we provide our visitors with a very dignified dining experience. If you walk in, it feels like you’re in a restaurant and the foods that we serve are not only delicious but also nutritious.”

The organization, whose work is committed to fostering sustainability in both the lives of those it serves and the community, is involved in numerous green efforts across the state. At their Better World Market and community garden, funds are raised to support meals at the soup kitchen and provide job training and employment opportunities for students at the Promise Culinary School. Efforts like these not only encourage a connection between people and their food but also support the plight of individuals looking to launch a culinary career.

“For many impoverished individuals, the food that they have access to most of the time is very unhealthy and so in exposing them to fresh, healthy alternatives and showing them the affordability of it all is one of our highest priorities,” Zullo said.

From wholesome meals to culinary arts job training, the efforts of Elijah’s Promise to fight hunger and food insecurity in a way unlike its many counterparts is especially notable. The organization provides an innovative approach to breaking the cycle of poverty in struggling urban communities.

“Being able to provide a vitality of services and a sense of security to the most needy in our community is great,” said Zullo. “But knowing that getting nutritious meals from us gives these same individuals the availability to apply their money to other important things is something that I find very rewarding.”


Main Office

Phone: 732-545-9002

Hours: Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Community Soup Kitchen

18 Neilson St., New Brunswick N.J.

Phone: 732-545-9002



90 Jersey Ave, New Brunswick N.J.

Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.


A Better World Café

19 S. 2nd Ave, Highland Park N.J.


Administrative Office

Promise Culinary School Promise Catering

211 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick N.J.

Phone: 732-545-9002


Article written by Engy Shaaban for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall