PWR To Help Raise Awareness About Hunger, Homelessness in Montclair

Check out this great article from the Montclair Times about how PWR is fighting homelessness and hunger in Montclair!

Easing the unending struggle for Montclair's homeless people

THURSDAY, MAY 17, 2012

 BY MARK S. PORTER OF THE MONTCLAIR TIMES

Photo: A crockpot, according to Alma Schneider of Montclair, offers a relatively inexpensive and easy way for people with modest incomes to cook nourishing meals. Some homeless shelters allow guests to use crockpots, Schneider said. Photo courtesy of Ilah Saltzman.

What happens to a person who's homeless in a thunderstorm?"

The drenching exacerbates the daily desperation afflicting so many people who exist without shelter—people who subsist literally on the streets of Montclair and other municipalities.

For Gwen Parker Ames of Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless, or MESH, inclement weather is one of the factors that debilitate people on the street.

"There is a community of homeless in Montclair … We're concerned about the basic necessities of life: water, respite and food," said Ames, who is MESH's "newly minted" executive director.

Through the recessionary downturn of the past several years, hunger and homelessness have worsened throughout the nation. Montclair's no exception to this ruinous recessionary rule. Local nonprofit agencies such as the Human Needs Food Pantry and Toni's Kitchen attend to numerous clients in need of groceries and meals, clothing and shelter.

During the past several winters, MESH has arranged for shelter, or respite, for homeless people, with some local churches and synagogues providing space for sleeping. Each year, as winter concluded, the shelter program has ceased.

"Our partners were going to stop March 31. But we saw the need, and the need is still there," said Ames. MESH has continued with a program to provide evening meals in some houses of worship, augmenting lunches offered by The Salvation Army's Montclair Citadel, St. Paul Baptist Church and Toni's Kitchen, located in St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

MESH intends to connect with the Montclair Farmers Market and, according to Ames, to initiate a community garden for a "garden to table" campaign.

Noting that Montclair is acclaimed for its quantity and quality of restaurants and the diversity of their cuisines, Ames is reaching out to the caf├ęs and bistros to solicit donations of cooked food. Participating restaurants might receive posters or small banners to acknowledge their involvement.

Joining in MESH's endeavor is Alma Schneider of Montclair, founder of Take Back the Kitchen, a largely online program to make cooking easy, fun and shared among friends and neighbors.

"There are a lot of restaurants in Montclair. Our hope is the restaurants will participate, and individuals will fill in the gaps," said Schneider, who said she launched Take Back the Kitchen's involvement with MESH to get groups of friends to cook meals for MESH.

"It's something very doable and manageable," Schneider said. "You can get together with six people and cook for five people each."

For anyone who wants to join in but is unsure of the specifics, "we will hand-hold," offered Schneider, who said she hopes residents who run other local food blogs will join in aiding MESH.

Schneider's also the founder of Parents Who Rock, a large ensemble of Montclair residents who have kids and can perform rock music. A key element of PWR is to donate money raised during its performances to notable organizations such as construction of the All-Children's Playground in Edgemont Memorial Park. This year, she said, PWR members will perform concerts and events to raise funds for — and awareness of — MESH.

"We really want to involve kids in raising awareness and raising funds," said Schneider.

Schneider wants to encourage clients of Toni's Kitchen and other support organizations to learn crockpot cooking, which she said is a generally acceptable device to use in homeless shelters. "If you have a crockpot," Schneider noted, "all you need is an outlet."

Schneider said she will demonstrate crockpot cooking at lunchtime today in Toni's Kitchen, and on Friday, May 25.

"We're going to get people to donate crockpots," vowed Schneider. "There are easy-to-learn healthy recipes to cook in a crockpot."

"She is a force of change," Ames said of Schneider. For more information, visit the MESH website: meshmontclair.org.

Contact Mark S. Porter at porterm@montclairtimes.com.

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