MEND, a non-profit working to alleviate hunger in Essex County, is accelerating its commitment to making fresh and healthy food available to its food pantry patrons, through the appointment of an Executive Director, enhanced programming, and a revitalized logo and website (www.mendnj.org).
In December, Robin Peacock was named to the newly created Executive Director position, after working for two years as the organization’s Grants and Special Projects Consultant. Robin, a former tax attorney, has a long history of community engagement and leadership, having served as a board member and volunteer for several non-profits in Essex County.
Among her first duties as Executive Director has been to oversee the development of a new website and logo aimed at underscoring MEND’s goal of improving access to nutritious food throughout its network of 17 food pantries. “MEND has been collaborating with our food pantry network and community partners, and seeking grant funding, to improve the quality of food that we distribute to patrons. Now we are updating our external communications to align with and emphasize these efforts, to help us make an even greater impact,” said Peacock.
MEND recognizes that its more than 115,000 food-pantry patrons suffer not only from food insecurity, but are also at risk of diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and/or obesity. In response, it has made access to healthy food a priority since mid-2016, when it launched its Healthy Pantries, Healthy Patrons program. The guiding principle of the program is that all people should have access to fresh and healthy foods, regardless of their socio-economic status.
Expanded in 2017, MEND’s Healthy Pantries, Healthy Patrons program is the force behind a number of recent initiatives, including:
- A healthy-food stipend for each of MEND’s 17 pantries so they can purchase fresh, nutritious food to supplement what they receive from traditional food drives. In 2017, MEND distributed $850 to each pantry under this initiative;
- The sourcing and distribution of more fresh produce, through new relationships with various organizations, including America’s Grow-A-Row, The Giving Gardeners’ Project, and Amp Your Good LLC;
- The transformation of a donated school bus into a green-painted vehicle (the “Green Bean”) that will be used to collect fresh and healthy food and as a mobile food pantry;
- The transportation of fresh food to MEND pantries from the Community FoodBank of NJ, local supermarkets and other locations;
- The purchase of refrigerators and freezers so MEND pantries can store more perishable food;
- A greater focus on providing nutritional information and guides to healthy eating.
With its appealing palette of harvest colors and clean design, MEND’s new website (https://mendnj.org) reinforces the organization’s heightened focus on healthy foods. The new logo, an apple-like shape that evokes a heart-in-hand symbol, rounds out the revamped look. South Orange, N.J.-based 4Elbows, a website design and advertising/marketing agency, worked with students at Seton Hall University to conceive and execute the new design.
The website’s color scheme of green, brown, soft orange and a touch of yellow is meant to be warm and welcoming, without relying on bright colors or veggie icons, said Priscilla Goldman, owner and creative director of 4 Elbows. The logo, meanwhile, alludes to “people helping people get the right nutrition,” she said.
MEND has seen the need for its services expand dramatically in recent years. The more than 115,000 patrons MEND served in 2017 has increased significantly from the 65,000 served in 2011. MEND’s recent move to change its name from Meeting Emergency Needs with Dignity, to Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity reflects its recognition that for many in Essex County, hunger is a chronic condition, not a temporary response to an emergency, as in the past.
The Essex County residents MEND serves are among the most vulnerable in New Jersey, with 18.6% reporting food insecurity, the most in the state, according to Feeding America. Essex was also ranked the least healthy county in the state, after Cumberland County, according to the New Jersey County Health Rankings for 2016. In Newark, where eight MEND food pantries are located, 29.9% of the population lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census.
MEND has been providing hunger relief to Essex County residents through its interfaith network of 17 food pantries since 1980. In addition to food, MEND supplies the pantries with resources and funding, and coordinates a monthly forum so food pantry managers can exchange best practices. Its patrons include the unemployed, the working poor and those on limited fixed budgets. Thirty-seven percent of those who benefit from MEND pantries are children, and about 15% are seniors. MEND became a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in 2010. Its pantries are located in Bloomfield, East Orange, Irvington, Maplewood, Montclair, Newark, Orange, South Orange and West Orange.