Among the many groups who have most acutely felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were those already struggling with poverty, hunger, and homelessness and the nonprofit organizations that exist to help them.
On page 12 of this issue, Dan Aubrey visits the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, which, amid tight finances and operational restrictions, has vastly increased the number of meals it is serving on a monthly basis and is striving to provide contagion-free ways for its clients to connect and socialize with others.
Accompanying the article is information about how members of the community can help, especially with food for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and warm clothes for the winter months. But one person who has already found a way to help is Aubrey’s son, Byron, who is already a regular volunteer at the soup kitchen.
He reflects below on his experiences and the lessons he has learned from them.
Holiday Reflections of a TASK Volunteer
In fall, 2019, I started volunteering at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.
I had been volunteering at another TASK satellite location, Cornerstone Community Kitchen in Princeton, but I decided to expand my volunteer hours to Trenton because I wanted to stay active, stay focused, and maybe use the time as a path for getting a job.
I also wanted to help out in the city where I was born and raised, to be more understanding, and help solve the problem of hunger and homelessness — a major problem affecting the City of Trenton and its residents.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting our area, the executives at the soup kitchen temporally closed down the dining room and suspended volunteer activities. And like most of us, I have been forced to stay home.
But, with the holiday season fast approaching, I am using this time to reflect on my experience of volunteering.
Within the first several weeks at TASK, I learned about the organization’s reaching out, feeding and satisfying the needs of a community, and meeting challenges that affect people physically, emotionally, and financially.
I also learned it is essential to respond to their needs with respect and dignity. This demographic is dealing with problems which most people don’t think about on a day to day basis.
My volunteering has helped me understand the struggles and challenges that most TASK patrons are dealing with and how to effectively communicate with them respectfully and compassionately.
I also found some of the patrons who utilize TASK not only go there for free meals but to get involved with things where they can share interests and build connections with others in the community. An example of this is the A-Team, an art program which meets at TASK every Tuesday. Some of the artists are using art as a way of coping with their struggles, but others use it as a tool so they can move ahead.
What matters most about my experience of volunteering at TASK is that it not only is a way to build a connection with the community and help bring people together, but it is a human experience.
It makes me realize the struggles people are going through and to know that there is hope on the horizon.
My volunteering also allows me to learn about myself. The experience helps me learn how to approach problems, realize that no one is perfect, and know that situations that cause people to utilize resources like soup kitchens can happen to anyone.
When COVID 19 subsides and conditions allow for the dining room to reopen once again, I hope to come back to TASK with a new found sense of resiliency in being involved in the community and working to make it stronger.
I also want to help to make the message clear that organizations like TASK will always be the lifeline for hope for our region — helping people who need it most and giving them a chance to come back strong.
Editor’s Note: Byron Aubrey is the son of U.S. 1’s preview editor Dan Aubrey. He was invited to participate in Princeton’s Cornerstone Methodist Church’s TASK project by former U.S. 1 editor Barbara Fox.
As families make efforts to achieve some semblance of normalcy during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the number of COVID-19 cases has surged throughout the state and across the country, and a host of new restrictions have been enacted in recent days to discourage gatherings with people outside of immediate family members.
While restaurant dining is still permitted both indoors and outdoors, new limitations on hours of operation and bar seating took effect last week. Restaurants, bars, and clubs must now be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. — though they may still offer takeout during those hours —and bar seating is prohibited.
Additionally, capacities for indoor and outdoor gatherings excluding weddings, funerals, religious services, and performances have been reduced. Indoor gatherings are now capped at 10 people. And effective Monday, November 23, outdoor gatherings will be capped at 150 people.
As ever, masks are still required in most situations where social distancing is not possible.