New Jersey Key Clubs tackle hunger close to home.
Story by Danielle Castonzo
Photos by Kelly Mooney
Imagine not being sure of when or how you’ll get your next meal. It’s a reality for many families, even in our own communities. So Key Clubs in New Jersey decided to do something about it.
On January 27, 70 Key Club members from Division 13 prepared 16,000 meals for families experiencing food insecurity in their state. In New Jersey, one in every eight people struggle with the issue, as do one of every five children.
“The rate of children struggling with food insecurity in New Jersey is higher than the national average, yet many people in New Jersey are unaware of this issue,” explains Madeleine Eichorn, a junior at Hunterdon Central Regional High School and the lieutenant governor of Key Club Division 13, which includes seven New Jersey high schools.
Not coincidentally, this year’s district project is “Hunger in New Jersey.” So when The Outreach Program – a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing safe water, food, medical care and education to children – approached Hunterdon Central Regional about collaborating on a food-packing project, Eichorn knew she wanted to make it a division-wide event.
“I am fortunate to have a lot of strong clubs in my division, but in the past, we really haven’t done much together,” she says. “I also wanted to show the officers and Key Club members that they can make their service project dreams come true. Sometimes we think our ideas are too big or too out there, but in reality they can do anything they set their minds to. They just have to put in the work and work together.”
Eichorn facilitated the event, setting fundraising goals for the clubs, checking their progress, handling advertising, coordinating with Outreach and the local Kiwanis club, communicating with food banks and applying for grants.
The clubs raised US$4,500 from fundraising, grants (including one from Nickelodeon’s HALO Movement) and donations, then used the money to purchase necessary supplies.
Often, food banks receive a lot of sugary cereals or high-sodium soups. Key Club members instead sought more healthy alternatives: enriched pasta, tomato basil sauce and soy protein. Armed with nutritious whole grains, minerals and protein, students worked in assembly lines to weigh portions, store them in plastic bags and heat-seal the packages for delivery to food banks.
Noah Stockwell is a freshman and the incoming president of his Key Club at North Hunterdon High School. Meeting other members from across the state and seeing how everyone worked together to quickly pack meals inspired him to expand his own club.
“When I worked with other volunteers at the event, I learned how active each school really was,” he says. “I could feel how happy each volunteer was, and I felt like if I could be like them and spread the word about Key Club (during the) next school year, a lot of people could be really interested.”
Kateryna Voznyuk, a high school junior, stresses that any Key Club can make an impact on relieving food insecurity.
“From participating, I learned that anyone, no matter if they are affiliated with any club or organization, can make a difference in someone else’s life. Anyone can go to a food pantry and donate food. Anyone can go to a sponsored event and pack meals. Anyone can make a difference. I was surprised by how involved the members of our community are and by the amount of dedication expressed by teens on a very early Saturday morning.”
Does your Key Club have an incredible project that could benefit from funding? Apply for a Nickelodeon Halo Grant. Your club could receive up to US$2,500 to make your dream service project a reality. Visit www.wehalo.com for more information on how you can apply and earn your halo.