Thursday, December 4, 2008

City Residents Speak about Food: Groups 9, 10, 11 and 12

This past week, after returning from Thanksgiving vacation, the Residents Speak groups continued their work where they last left off. The Trenton and Camden groups have been in communication about planning meetings in which they could discuss how they should go about tackling their final group project. The new Newark group is still waiting on their field trip to conduct research, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning. The New Brunswick group went to their city yesterday and gathered some very enlightening information. I was lucky enough to accompany them on their travels.

Hesham El Halaby and Alyse Wheelock were the two members of the New Brunswick group that conducted the interviews. A van picked us up at Princeton at 8:45 Wednesday morning and transported us to a food pantry just on the edge of New Brunswick. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication between the CBLI organizers and the food pantry, and no residents were present for Hesham or Alyse to interview. They were not able to gain any insight about actual residents’ views on food, but instead they were provided with a great opportunity to interview leaders of local agencies in the New Brunswick area responsible for providing food to those “in need”. The agencies represented a vast range: churches, soup kitchens for the homeless, drug rehabilitation centers and programs that provided groceries to individual families on a weekly basis.

They were able to speak with a total of nine agency leaders, voice recording each interview. The questions they had prepared for the residents had to be slightly tailored to adjust to the circumstances. They conducted the interviews in the busy storeroom of the food pantry, where representatives of local agencies and volunteers were constantly bustling around, sorting food to send out to the different programs. What the agency leaders had to say was quite interesting.

One trend I noticed while listening in was how hard times were for families, now, more than ever, because of the recent financial crisis. The agency representatives frequently cited a larger strain on their capacity to provide for the surge of need in the area. The chief concern for many of the providers was not related to unhealthy eating habits or lack of access to healthy food, but a harsher reality of a lack of access to food period. The residents they provided for represented a constituency of the population who can barely afford to feed themselves or their families.

Ultimately, the trip for the New Brunswick group was not what they had expected, but yielded insight into what local New Brunswick agencies are doing to provide for those in poverty or near the poverty line.