November 15-22 marks this year’s Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, a time when people across the country come together to draw attention to the issues of hunger and homelessness. In honor of this annual event, the Student Volunteers Council (SVC) recently hosted an educational panel that featured Meals on Wheels of Mercy County, NJ, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and a longtime local social worker and activist.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated a wide variety of areas, and as pointed out by panelist Whitney Hendrickson, case manager for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and homelessness is one of those areas. Although there are a number of moratoriums in place to protect people from being evicted, Hendrickson emphasizes that, eventually, rent that has been temporarily paused will need to be paid back. Hendrickson expresses her fear that there will be an even larger influx of homeless people due to the fact that many people are unaware of this.
Hendrickson also draws attention to the effects of the pandemic that most likely slipped through the cracks of perception for many people. Often, soup kitchens were not just a place to get food, but also a chance for social interaction. With the pandemic, that chance is gone, and that, she believes, is going to have a negative impact. “Of course there’s economic consequences and things you can see,” she tells us, “but what people feel is equally important. If we don’t become aware of that and address that, it’s going to lead to a lot of problems.”
Brandon Verrault, the director of operations at Meals on Wheels, also echoed this grievance. In normal times, his organization has a number of congregate sites where the seniors whom he serves can meet to pick up their food, but unfortunately they are feeling the effects that Hendrickson mentioned. However, Verrault does note a silver lining: because there are many people going through this right now, a lot of attention has been brought to this situation and educational opportunities, such as this panel, are arising all over the country.
This level of advocacy is something that all three of the panelists hope will continue beyond the pandemic. Tamika, as an advocate and social worker of over 25 years, advised that “To be an effective advocate is to have a passion, to do something that you absolutely love to do. Wherever your fire is, you use that to keep the fire going.”
Tamika shares that, at one point in her life, she herself was homeless and received her meals from a soup kitchen. And while those soup kitchen workers may not remember a small, homeless girl, she will never forget the kindness that they treated her with. That is why it is important to have reflectional spaces like this and encourage advocacy, because while being an advocate can involve long, heavy days, pushing forwards ensures that the people you help will be positively affected.
In the long term fight against hunger and homelessness, the panelists stress that this is a principle that is important to hold on to. As the panel comes to a close, Tamika shares her wisdom on being an advocate with the attendees, “Know that at the end of the day, even if you don’t see it right away, what you’re doing is making a difference.”
There are a wide array of organizations that address hunger and homelessness in the greater Princeton area. Visit their websites to learn more:
- Anchor House
- Arm in Arm
- Catholic Charities
- Cornerstone Community Kitchen
- Elijah's Promise
- Eviction Lab
- Farmers Against Hunger
- Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County and Greater Trenton-Princeton
- Mercer Street Friends
- Rescue Mission of Trenton
- Send Hunger Packing Princeton
- The Garden State Community Kitchen
- Trenton Area Soup Kitchen