Food for Thought: The Community Food Bank of NJ Serves an Economic Answer

09/16/2010 06:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On September 2nd, 2010 I had the chance to be a part of an event that signaled a look inside of the type of programming that will lead to this economy turning around. The number one issue in the minds of all America and around the world is the economy. It seems as if the economy has stabilized but with the housing market still showing no signs of improvement, consumer spending still stagnant, top line growth for businesses being nonexistent, and the banks have made living room chairs of their surpluses of cash...the main thing that can fix all of these problems is more jobs! If we had more jobs there would be more people to purchase homes, more money to be spent, the top line of businesses could see growth making hiring possible, and more capital flowing around the economy making the banks less timid to lend money.

People are looking far and wide for job creation and job placement programming that are effective. As a community activist who constantly works with and refers people to programming that can assist someone to obtain gainful employment, I have seen many that are good and many that are not so good. I didn't expect to find one of the most successful programs that I have ever seen at a food bank of all places!

That is right...a food bank...the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. This is no ordinary food bank. Here are some of the things they have been able to accomplish:

• They have produced and served over 400 million pounds of food since its inception in the 1970s.
• They feed over one million people in New Jersey every year.
• They feed people in 19 of the 21 counties in New Jersey
• They average serving over 21 million pounds of food per year, but because of the recession last year they served over 34 million pounds of food.
• They feed over 1300 children per day Monday through Friday in their afterschool program and over 250,000 children per year.
• They effectively stretch each donated one dollar to purchase $11 worth of food.

One might be asking, "This is great but how does this provide jobs?" On September 2nd, Kareem Hertzog, Executive Director of The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment, and I were invited to keynote a graduation ceremony of their food service training academy. They take people from all walks of life that live in the New Jersey area and train them for careers in the food service industry. All of their graduates earn their skills by going through a rigorous 14 week, all hands on, on the job training program that effectively prepares the students for exactly what they will be doing on the job when they begin work. The classroom time is limited as they are too busy in the kitchens assisting to produce over 5,000 pounds of food per week. Over 90% of their students find employment because of their obtained experience in this program. The price for this program to the students is zero! They each were able to receive a $4,000 scholarship through a collaboration of private donors who all believe in the program and in the people in their community.

On this day they saw their largest graduating class to date...over 30 students. We saw students, many who were living in halfway houses, smiling bright because they were offered hope and access to actually find employment. They now had acquired culinary skills that they could take around the world into any restaurant. The smiles, the hugs, the outpour of family member support, and the promise of a new day were all things that touched my soul on this day because I was witnessing something truly tremendous. I thank Executive Chef Paul Kapner for allowing us to be a part of this day and urge you to please continue with your fabulous work. It is needed and you are truly making an impact.

Don't take my word for the video below to see the type of day we had.