As food insecurity grows, Rider community provides needed services during pandemic

Volunteers and others are stepping to assist those in need
Rachel Stengel '14

While many operations have stopped throughout the country in light of the coronavirus outbreak, those dedicated to battling hunger are amping up. Several members of the Rider community are part of local efforts to help those in need.

Rider's Daly Dining Hall continues to serve as the preparation hub for Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. The organization prepares and delivers dietary specific meals to homebound individuals who are unable to cook and/or shop for themselves. Each weekday, members of Gourmet Dining, Rider's dining service provider, prepare about 300 meals, which are then delivered by local volunteers who come to campus to pick them up.

"Rider and Gourmet Dining's capacity to continue to produce meals is unmatched and they have committed to continue it undeterred," says Meals on Wheels of Mercer County CEO Sasa Olessi Montaño. “We are so grateful for the commitment to the community shown by President Dell’Omo and his staff during this critical time.”

Though operations continue, protocols have changed. Volunteers must follow social distancing practices, wear masks and gloves, use hand sanitizer and perform contactless deliveries. Gourmet Dining has also taken steps to isolate themselves from any contact with outside staff and volunteers to protect the health of their staff.

Shariq Marshall '18 has also rapidly changed the way he serves clients at Arm In Arm, a nonprofit that provides food, housing and job support resources to residents of Mercer County, N.J.

"We've gone full mobile delivery," says Marshall, Arm In Arm's operations and volunteer coordinator. "We used to do one mobile delivery per month. Now we're doing daily deliveries to our clients, local apartment complexes and senior centers that need assistance. Everything is sanitized and we're following all the necessary social distancing measures."

Safety is important to Marshall because he wants his volunteers to feel as comfortable as possible.

"Those that are coming understand the risks, but are healthy and still want to help," he says. "We're actually using less volunteers than normal and I'm jumping in to help, but we're all working to get things done."

One of Marshall's frequent volunteers during the pandemic is senior political science major Allison Anderson who has helped prepare bags for delivery to clients.

"There are two volunteers who pack the bags and we're both maintaining the six-feet-apart guidelines and wearing masks and gloves," she says. "We're packing anywhere from 50-100 bags per day."

The bags include a number of pantry staples such as canned goods, grains, pastas, beans, eggs, meat and fresh produce. The contents are dependent upon donations and government support. Marshall says Arm In Arm continues to receive regular food deliveries from local organizations but hopes to increase the amount of food to meet the demand.

"People have been very generous with donations during this time, but we need to get as much food out as possible," he says.

Social media has provided an invaluable tool for Marshall to help get the word out about food availability. It has been junior communication studies major Giavanna Troilo's focus during the pandemic. Since January, she has been working as a multimedia intern at Food Bank of South Jersey (FBSJ).

"Demand has increased exponentially so we want to make ourselves seen on social media so we can continue to get volunteers and donations," she says. "We also update our pages each day with locations where people can get food."

Her work, now more than ever, has allowed her to showcase the continual need to support local food banks.

"It's been really interesting for someone who's used to doing more of the hands-on service," says Troilo, a Rider Bonner Scholar who is required to complete 300 hours of community service annually. "I've realized that behind the scenes work is important too. It's critical for us to get engagement from people online so that people don't go hungry."

She has been taking photos of volunteers equipped with masks and gloves to showcase the food bank's continual dedication to service and creating social media posts aimed to raise money for FBSJ's emergency food fund.

"We're really trying to let the community know on social media how important donations are at this time," she says. "Food donations are great, but at this time, monetary donations are really important because food banks can get mass deliveries much cheaper than someone who's just going to their local grocery store."

Troilo has also stepped out from behind the scenes and volunteered at one of FBSJ's pop-up pantry events, which have become more frequent during the pandemic. As Bonner Scholars, Troilo Anderson and Marshall have a strong desire to continue to serve in any capacity during this time of uncertainty.

"I love to serve and I couldn't think of a better way to give of my time," says Anderson. "Everything we do on this campus is more than just this campus. Rider is making us into what we want to be because we're also doing things outside of Rider like still serving the community."