By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – For the community at large, hunger can be silent, unseen, but still very much a part of the community. But it is very much something that affects lives and has to be addressed.
So found out Keith and Suzanne Dice, a young Middletown couple who have been taking steps to deal with hunger and food insecurity establishing a program they call the Backpack Crew.
The couple has been working as a ministry of the United Methodist Church, 247 Broad St., Red Bank, with the church’s support and assistance.
The Backpack Crew currently fills 25 packs with mostly non-perishable, nutritious foodstuffs (plus some durable fruits and vegetables), delivering them to an unidentified township primary school. The idea, they explained, is to make available the food for the weekend for students enrolled in the free and reduced cost lunch program and their families, to ensure they have enough to carry them through when the kids are not in school.
The couple declined to identify the school to preserve the families’ confidentiality.
The idea arose when the Dices were talking to a family friend, who teaches at the school, who told them about families still struggling a year after Sandy. Starting the program in Oct. 2013 they were quickly struck by how prevalent the problem is in their suburban area. They modeled their program on one established in North Carolina.
“The face of a hungry person is not what most people would picture,” Suzanne said.
“First of all we couldn’t believe it was here in our area,” Keith acknowledged. “It surprised me and once we found out about it we knew something had to be done.
“Originally we said if no one was willing to do this we’ll do it ourselves,” Keith continued.
Suzanne and Keith each week bring the backpacks, which are numbered, to the school, with the school nurse distributing them to the children on a Friday, with the kids returning the packs on a Monday, the Dices explained.
Keith and Suzanne approached their church leaders about coordinating their efforts, getting assistance in collecting food. “We couldn’t do it without the church’s help and support,” Suzanne said.
Church representatives have recently dedicated a room at the church to store the collected food centralize the program.
Suzanne and Keith have also set up some food collection boxes in Middletown and Atlantic Highlands to add to what is available for distribution.
Hunger in the abstract is an insurmountable problem, of course. But the Dices believe that with many making small steps it can be solved.
“We can’t eradicate hunger ourselves,” Suzanne acknowledged. “But we would be more than happy to help start up our program elsewhere.”
“I truly believe there is enough food to go around,” she continued. “It’s about connecting people to the food.”
Keith and Suzanne don’t have any direct contact with the children and families who get the backpacks and food. But they do get notes families leave in the packs, offering their thanks for what the couple’s efforts mean to them.
“That makes it all worthwhile,” Suzanne acknowledged.
Contact John Burton at JBurton@tworivertimes.com or at 732-219-5788.
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