the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Ridgewood NJ, Volunteer Program Feed the Frontlines and Helping Those in Need funded through the HealthBarn Foundation 501c3 by public donations in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was awarded the 2021 NJ Governor’s Jefferson Medallion, known as the Nobel Peace Prize of Volunteerism, for outstanding community service as a volunteer group on September 12, 2021 at the Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton, NJ. There were 12 finalists for the Volunteer Program/Group category and Feed the Frontlines was selected to receive the prestigious Jefferson Medallion. Team members accepting the award for over 400 volunteers included Stacey Antine, MS, RDN, Founder, Director of the Foundation, Paul Vagianos, owner It’s Greek to Me and Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur who also spearheads the county’s Food Security Task Force. The Jefferson Awards, founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft, Jr., and Sam Beard, is America’s top honor for public service. For 46 years, the Jefferson Awards have honored a who’s who of American change makers and more than 50,000 community volunteers.
Feed the Frontlines and Helping Those in Need initiative raised $100,000 from the public for the HealthBarn Foundation to purchase ready-to-eat meals from local restaurants organized by the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce. The meals were transported by resident volunteers to hospital frontline workers, emergency service personnel and food insecure neighbors during the height of the pandemic. This initial program qualified the HealthBarn Foundation to apply and secure NJEDA’s Sustain and Serve Phase 1 Grant for $1M for 100,000 meals in February 2021 successfully concluding in June 2021. “Our volunteer team mobilized during the darkest time of the pandemic to help restaurants stay in business by providing hot, nutritious meals for the community, and we were proud of what we accomplished never imagining an expansion,” stated Antine, HealthBarn Foundation, Inc. “On behalf of the 400 Feed the Frontline and Helping Those in Need volunteers who received the NJ Jefferson Award, the highest recognition of community service in the State of New Jersey, we are ready to do it all over again with the new NJEDA grant of $2M for 200,000 hot nutritious meals for Bergen County neighbors in need.” added Antine.
The economic impact of the program has been substantial. Restaurants about to shut down were able to keep their doors open, extend worker hours, and even hire more employees because of HealthBarn Foundation’s commitment of $3.1 million NJEDA Sustain and Serve funding for Ridgewood restaurants.
“Without the Sustain and Serve program, there would be more empty stores in downtown Ridgewood.” said It’s Greek to Me owner Paul Vagianos, who was also instrumental in designing and kickstarting this program through the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce. “Feed the Frontlines kept many restaurants in business during a very dark time. Without the steady stream of income from this program many restaurants would have gone out of business. It was a lifeline for them.”
“The first round of funding was an incredible success in Bergen County. We had a tremendous economic impact by keeping restaurants open and employees working while distributing much needed food to the community. And with the approval of the second ‘Sustain and Serve’ grant, we again have the opportunity to deliver – but we need more volunteer drivers to address the growing need,” said Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur who also spearheads the county’s Food Security Task Force. “With the delta variant and the flooding caused by Hurricane Ida, this additional $2 million dollars will be vital to support our neighbors in need. However, in order to bring food to those who are struggling, we need more volunteers to be part of the solution.”
Volunteers caution that the next round of $2 million over six months will need even more community support. The organizations involved have initiated a volunteer signup system using SignupGenius.com to recruit the extra volunteer drivers needed to deliver the 200,000 meals [LINK: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b4dacae2ca0f58-volunteer].
HealthBarn Foundation’s partnership with the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce’s Feed the Frontlines and Helping Those in Need volunteer program connects over 20 local Ridgewood restaurants and food pantries organized by the Bergen County Security Task Force to ensure the program’s success by delivering nutritious, hot meals transported by over 400 volunteers throughout Bergen County. The call for volunteerism has doubled with the NJEDA Sustain and Serve Phase 2 grant funding. Volunteerism makes a difference, please sign up to help.
HealthBarn Foundation is a New Jersey non-profit corporation and a federally recognized 501c3 public charity with a mission to gift families with ill children and seniors with healthy food through access and in conjunction with nutrition education. There are currently four initiatives that are being funded with generous support from the public including: Healing Meals, Feed the Frontlines and Helping Those in Need, Garden-to-Table Scholarships and School Nutrition Education. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 201-444-2955 for more information.