Trenton Area Soup Kitchen: Life at Forty

ON JANUARY 13, 2022, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) turns forty. From my perch as TASK’s Executive Director for the last five and a half years, it feels much like it did when I turned forty: a milestone to be feared and embraced, with a sense of truly being an adult with a firm stand on this earth.

I often think of TASK’s founders and their response in 1982 to what had been the worst recession in the United States since the Great Depression of 1929. I imagine their surprise that soup kitchens were needed, having thought that after the “Great One” there would never be such hunger again. Did they think that TASK’s job would be done before it reached forty? Could they have envisioned a future where TASK would feed even more people and provide even more services over time? Today, as then, we can and do fear some of what the unknown future holds, but in true TASK style, I know that this milestone is one that we embrace. Turning 40 has been cause to review our values and purpose, to evaluate our priorities, and envision what the next forty years might look like.

TASK’s Board of Trustees, staff, volunteers, community partners and patrons come upon this milestone in the wake of the nation’s worst pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918. The Covid-19 pandemic challenged TASK to meet a higher demand for food and more assistance navigating a pandemic world on behalf of those who are homeless and/or living in poverty. Instead of saying “We can’t do that,” all involved said, “How can we do it?” And so, off we went to continue feeding without missing a day and providing the continuum of services we know people need.

TASK has been blessed by strong community support during this difficult pandemic time. The Trenton area community ensured that TASK’s patron community was well taken care of. Now, as in 1982, the community’s support has allowed us to stay true to our values and core principles. While the services TASK offers have grown and changed over the years, food is always first. No one can thrive without being fed, and TASK takes pride in providing meals with a commitment to dignity, quality and respect.

Every individual comes to TASK with a unique set of life experiences and challenges that seem like hurdles too high for anyone to get over. However, TASK partners with our very resilient patrons to jump that hurdle. At TASK, we avoid seeing crisis as an insurmountable problem. We encourage patrons to accept that change is a part of living, and we help patrons nurture a positive view of themselves. When someone sits down to eat at TASK, they feel a sense of community and a connection to others, which is possibly the best service that we provide. Ultimately, our patrons’ resiliency is a result of partnership — between the individual, staff, volunteers and donors.

At the dedication ceremony for TASK’s permanent home in 1991, then Chairman of the Board, Steve Leder, termed the building a “triumph of community” and a testimony to the goodwill of the people of greater Mercer County. Today this message remains truer than ever. TASK continues to embody the triumph of community; TASK is a daily reminder of the tenacity of the human spirit and the impact we can make when we work together.

TASK has become an engine of hope in the greater Trenton community and an engineer of opportunity by staying true to its mission. For TASK, looking back demonstrates an enduring alignment of mission and vision, reminding us of lessons learned and remembering those who inspired us over the years. Looking forward, we can be assured that TASK will continue to meet the needs of the community, following the same values and principles instilled at our founding.

Advocacy and leadership are two of TASK’s guiding principles: to inform the community about hunger and poverty and to advocate for programs and policies that alleviate these conditions. Hunger is not a simple issue. While a meal may fill a belly for a moment, the struggles that contributed to someone needing that meal are complex. We can, and should, dream that the Trenton area will one day be free of hunger and poverty, but while we are busy dreaming let’s not forget to use our community of voices to demand more for the common good. We must share that we know what it takes to make life better for those who hunger.

Looking ahead another forty years to 2062, I do not believe that anyone can predict what TASK will be — or if it will even be. But as long as TASK is here, I know for sure it will be a triumph of community.

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, which has been serving the Mercer County region since 1982, operates the only week-day soup kitchen in the Trenton area. In addition to providing more than 8,000 hot and nutritious meals each week, TASK offers a multitude of resources to encourage self-sufficiency and improve quality of life including the provision of basic necessities, case management, adult education, job search assistance and creative arts.

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