In summer, when school is out, local families who rely on Free and Reduced school lunch programs to help feed their families face a big challenge. The decision for these parents becomes, “Should I not pay rent, skip a utility bill, or forgo some meals myself, so my children have enough food,” explains HomeFront representatives.
This annual summertime issue, which puts additional stress on families living on the brink of homelessness, is called a “summer food drought.” For HomeFront, a nonprofit which has two food pantries as part of its comprehensive services model to address all of the underlying causes of local homelessness, the additional demand for food in summer often causes food shortages at their sites and even completely bare pantry shelves at times.
This spring, HomeFront approached the upcoming summer food drought with a CAN-BUILD attitude, piloting a new event called the HomeFront CANgineering Competition. HomeFront invited a few local companies who volunteer with them throughout the year to form teams, collect canned food from their employees, and build sculptures out of the collected cans at their company’s headquarters. Then on July 24-25, HomeFront staff “judged” the can sculptures and awarded prizes.
Marcie Wilmot, Human Resources and Marketing Manager for InsiderScore said of the CANgineering Competion, “We’ve collected items and volunteered with HomeFront in the past but this was a great new team building experience for us. It was rewarding to watch our employees work together, come up with creative solutions, and build the structure. And the best part was that it’s for a great cause. We are already making plans for next time!”
InsiderScore took home the “Best In Show” award, for spelling out the name of an analytics tool they provide, called inFilings, in tuna cans. The Billtrust team won “Best Use of Prioritized Food”, for creating a living room scene out of a large variety of the most needed food items. Johnson & Johnson’s Supply Chain Research Design and Engineering team took home the award for “Most Creative”, for their castle with their corporate logo on flags atop, a moat, and a bridge.
The idea for the CANgineering Competition came to HomeFront from two of their other corporate partners, Bank of America and AmeriHealth New Jersey, who had previously held internal food-sculpture competitions with their employees to help HomeFront fill their food pantries.
“Both of these companies collected hundreds of cans and boxes of food,” said Meg Cubano, HomeFront’s Director of Community Engagement, “and had so much fun competing, that we thought we should pilot a competition between some of our corporate partners. Based on the enthusiasm from our teams this year, we’d like to expand the competition next year and invite even more organizations and corporate partners to participate.”
Although the CANgineering Competition is fun, its compassion truly drives its participants to take part. They understand the significant value of a food bag in the fight against homelessness.
One of HomeFront’s fathers, Earl, who visits HomeFront’s food pantry, summed, “The end of the month is tough to get through with bills. It’s lifesaving, to say the least, to come and get essentials, not just for my daughter, but for me. If I’m sipping meals so she can eat it takes away my ability to make sure she’s taken care of. The opportunity to come to HomeFront’s food pantry is a blessing.”
HomeFront provides food for over 22,000 local Mercer County residents throughout the year, as part of its comprehensive services model to address all of the underlying causes of homelessness. If you are interested donating food to HomeFront, please go to https://www.homefrontnj.org/donate-food-furniture-and-clothing/