MCFOODS marks 25 years helping local needy
EAST BRUNSWICK — Thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers, former county freeholder Jane Brady and a small team at the Middlesex County Improvement Authority in nearby Monroe Township, families struggling to pay utility bills, rent, mortgages and unforeseen medical expenses can now breathe easier with the launch about 25 years ago of Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services, more commonly known as MCFOODS, serving the county’s 120 food pantries and soup kitchens.
MCFOODS was created in 1994 by the county Board of Chosen Freeholders. Perth Amboy native Jane Brady, then a freeholder, “wanted to address hunger and food insecurity here in the county.”
The county eventually set up MCFOODS in a central distribution center near Exit 9 of the New Jersey Turnpike on Kennedy Boulevard in East Brunswick “to ensure that all areas of the county were being serviced by food pantries and that everyone would have access to nutritionally adequate food and resources.”
For years, MCFOODS was run out of a much smaller space at Roosevelt Park, Edison, just off Route 1. “Back then there were maybe 15 or 20 food pantries in the network and we operated out of a closet in the park police building there,” Apostol said.
“Now we have a 5,000-square-foot warehouse that’s leased by the county on our behalf,” said MCFOODS coordinator Jennifer Apostol.
Last year, MCFOODS distributed 1.8 million pounds of food to pantries and soup kitchens within the county.
There are several such pantries in just about every municipality in the county, including mostly urban locales like Perth Amboy, Woodbridge, New Brunswick, Edison and Carteret.
“Yesterday we had 51 agencies picking up food and supplies,” Apostal said on a Wednesday morning in early October.
“That’s a lot of cars and trucks, that’s a busy day. Today so far, we’ve had about 25 agencies come and pick up fresh produce,” she added. Some pantries have their own refrigeration systems while others have no such luxury, she noted.
Apostol, who helped coordinate the MCIA’s annual charity golf tournament for years, now spends 99 percent of her time as project manager and coordinator for M.C. FOODS. The first Wednesday in October, there was a distinguished team of women volunteering their time, sorting food at the warehouse in East Brunswick. They included former freeholder Brady, former county clerk Margaret Pemberton and former MCIA administrator/director of public information Jane Leal.
“In 2017, we created a non-profit called Feeding Middlesex County to financially support MCFOODS by soliciting and doing fundraising and being able to raise money to buy food and supplies when things are low,” Apostol explained.
“The summer is traditionally a difficult time for food banks. Donations are down and the need is up. Children are not in school receiving their free breakfast and lunch.”
MCFOODS is staffed by Apostol and two full-time warehouse managers, a part-time manager-driver, and about eight volunteers. Apostol praised farmer Jim Giamarese of Giamarese Farms, Fresh Ponds Road, East Brunswick, for donating one full acre of his land to Farmers Against Hunger. MCFOODS also provides volunteers who work on Giamarese’s farm to glean excess produce, she said.
“Through FAH, we’ve been receiving weekly deliveries throughout the produce growing season,” she added.
Apostol was raised in North Brunswick and graduated from the University of Delaware. She began working at the MCIA’s Monroe township offices at the beginning of 1996.
She said in the last few years since she’s been working almost exclusively with MCFOODS, she’s gained a greater sense job satisfaction and an appreciation for just how much of an impact her job has.
“It is a very rewarding job to come into,” she said, “because on a daily basis, you know you’re making a difference in people’s lives, making sure they’ve got food on their table.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925