Former Soup Kitchen Finds New Ways to Fulfill Growing Needs

Amid the pandemic, Morristown-based Nourish.NJ quickly revamped its food-distribution model and shifted all resource services to remote.

Nourish.NJ hosts a free farmers’ market with fresh produce in Morristown three times a week. Courtesy of Nourish.NJ

Every day since December 1984, one Morris County organization has been feeding anyone able to travel to its home base in Morristown—free of charge and no questions asked.

“We have not missed a single day in 36 years, all 365 days a year,” says Terry Connolly, executive director of Nourish.NJ, a nonprofit committed to addressing the devastation of hunger, homelessness and poverty. 

Nourish.NJ, formerly known as the Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center, has evolved with the community’s needs. “When I started [in August 1997], it was a small soup kitchen that served 50 people a day,” says Connolly. Now, the organization reaches about 2,000 people a week across its food and outreach programs, which address mental health, substance-abuse issues, employment and housing. 

nourish.njPartnering with grocery operations like ShopRite, Wegmans, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, in addition to local farms like Grow It Green Morristown, Nourish.NJ provides fresh produce, dairy products and meat to all in need. Last year, Nourish.NJ served 75,000 breakfasts and lunches, gave away 500,000 pounds of food through its free farmers’ markets, and provided 3,000 summer-camp lunches to low-income families. This year, with the pandemic increasing demand by 30 percent, Nourish.NJ is on track to exceed those numbers.

[RELATED: Newark Working Kitchens Is Helping Both Restaurants and Residents At Once]

“Covid changed everything, really, overnight,” says Connolly. For one thing, the service could no longer welcome volunteers. “But our staff never hesitated. Everybody said, ‘How are we going to do it?’”

They did it by quickly changing their food-distribution model to grab-and-go meals and pre-bagged food orders, and by shifting all resource services to remote. Staff delivered food to people who had tested positive for Covid-19 and were quarantining, as well as to high-risk individuals unable to travel to Morristown.

This fall, the organization moved its headquarters from the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in downtown Morristown—where Connolly says recent development is pricing out many residents and businesses—to a new office at 36 Sussex Avenue, closer to where many guests live. “The move to that neighborhood was very purposeful,” says Connolly, who sees the transition as a way to better “become embedded in their community.” Nourish.NJ also recently purchased a former bank in Boonton, which it is renovating and turning into a distribution hub.

Connolly and her team are committed to being a reliable resource, whatever the situation: blizzard, hurricane, flood, economic recession or global pandemic. “Everybody has a basic right to food,” she says, “and there shouldn’t be any barriers.”

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