Last year, 13-year-old Elijah Goldberg of Short Hills teamed up with a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group to provide fresh produce to two area food pantries.
This year, he continued the project, but he’s expanded his vision by increasing his fund-raising goals to purchase more shares of produce to benefit hungry clients.
This is no one-off bar mitzvah project, commendable and then completed.
“Stopping it hurts people, and can kill some,” Elijah told NJJN. His project pays for weekly shares from farms during the growing season; a CSA group benefits farmers by supplying a paid customer base; in exchange, the CSA members, in this case the food pantries, receive farm-fresh produce.
Over one million people in New Jersey are food insecure, according to Feeding America’s “2016 Map the Meal Gap” report, and Essex County has the highest concentration of food insecurity in New Jersey. (The report reflected conditions in 2014.)
Elijah has increased his fund-raising goal from $3,000 last year (when he actually raised $5,000) to $15,000 this year, the equivalent cost of 15 fruit and vegetable shares through the Farm & Fork Society CSA, which his mother, Melissa Goldberg, started in 2008 and continues to run. And now Elijah has added Isaiah House in East Orange to the two food pantries he worked with last year, the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, and the food pantry at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in South Orange.
As of late April, he’d already raised more than $4,000.
“It’s easier to keep it going than to stop,” he said. “And if it keeps going, we help more people.”
Elijah, an eighth-grader at the Far Brook School in Short Hills, sat down with NJJN in his home on April 7 to explain the project and his motivation.
“At Far Brook we have a community service day, and I went to a food bank. It made an impact on me,” said Elijah, his long, brownish-blond locks peeking out from under a baseball cap. The students visited St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Newark. (Food pantries and soup kitchens are self-governing bodies that distribute food to local communities; food banks are storehouses for sometimes millions of pounds of food and other products that ultimately are distributed to the community, usually through pantries and soup kitchens.) “I saw a lot more people than I thought I would. I thought there would be 75 or 80 people. There were more like 200,” Elijah said.
Meanwhile, although he would not be having a traditional bar mitzvah service in a synagogue, his parents insisted that he do a service project to mark his Jewish coming of age. (The family does not belong to a congregation nor does Goldberg’s mother consider the family religiously observant.)
“I saw that people needed help,” Elijah said. He brainstormed different ideas for his project, and settled on helping the food pantries with organic produce from Farm & Fork Society. “It’s real food, not junk food,” he said.
He started a page for his idea, Generation Zero: Working to Reduce Hunger in NJ, on the fund-raising platform generosity.com, and sent e-mails last year to his friends and family, probably 200 all together, according to his mother.
People can sign up either through the generosity.com site or when they sign up for their CSA share through Farm & Fork.
Elijah estimates that he spent about five hours setting up the project initially through the CSA, and about 14 hours working on it through Far Brook’s community service days. Now, he said, “it runs itself.”
Kate Cahill, one of the coordinators of the food pantry at Our Lady of Sorrows, which distributes food on a weekly basis to about 100-125 patrons, expressed her gratitude for the project. “We are always working to develop relationships with partners who can provide free, fresh produce. Not only does it provide excellent nutrition, it replaces food that we otherwise might need to purchase,” she said. “Although we receive nonperishables through generous individual donations and food drives,” Cahill added, “that is not enough on its own to fully support our operations.”
According to the Generation Zero website, Elijah derived his organization’s name from Generation Z, referring to his peers, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
Farm & Fork Society has more than 100 members. Its fruits and vegetables come from Circle Brook Farm in Andover and Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg, N.Y.
The food pantries pick up their share at the same time as other members of the CSA, on Wednesday afternoons in a Millburn parking lot. If one of the beneficiaries misses a pickup, their share for that week goes to the other pantries.
The CSA season runs June 7-Nov. 15, and sign-up runs until May 1. Donations to benefit the food pantries can be made through the CSA or the Generosity.com website through June 7; any donations after that date will be held for 2018.
Elijah has no plans to stop his efforts on behalf of the pantries. “It just feels good,” he said.