Sicklerville youth helps nonprofit feed residents in Camden County

Men Empowering Nations partners with Touch NJ

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: Men Empowering Nations helps distribute produce boxes to those in need in Winslow Township Friday, July 31.

Touch NJ has been on the front lines of fighting food insecurity for quite some time. But the need has intensified since COVID-19  caused job and wage losses in South Jersey.

The nonprofit receives donations of food from Philabundance, an amount that varies on a weekly basis and is distributed through  events that span multiple counties.

Touch NJ now has a contract with Camden County that allows the organization to distribute food each Friday in August wherever there is need, while also filling area gaps.

“We are aligned with Camden County,” said Touch NJ Logistics Manager Paul Balkam. “We are sponsoring events like this across the county; we did Cherry Hill East last week and we’ll be there again.
“After this event, we hope to be here again later this summer, and we hope to bring dairy products as well at that time on a day when the heat isn’t as intense.”

In addressing county needs, Touch NJ seeks to provide residents in need of food with help, without paperwork needed, through drive thru-style events.

At the end of July, the nonprofit partnered with Men Empowering Nations (MEN), a group in Sicklerville that pairs at-risk youth with mentors. Thirty men have been helped to live and lead successful lives. Mentors lead their charges through conversation on current events, Biblical studies and other topics during meetings, and give them the opportunity to help with community-service events.

In light of the pandemic, Executive Director Virgil Carman Jr. said, the MEN group’s opportunities to help others have been impacted in recent months. But a strong relationship with the Winslow Township Board of Health, with whom MEN has worked closely in recent years, allowed MEN to offer its help with Touch NJ’s food distribution, even though the two groups had not yet worked together before.

“The board of health asked if it had some boys that could help distribute much-needed food to those in the Winslow Township area,  and we could not have been more excited to be here to help,” Carman said.

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: M.E.N. Executive Director Virgil Carmen Jr (left) stands alongside fellow volunteers at a food distribution event in the Sicklerville portion of Winslow Township at the end of July. The group helped distribute food provided by non-profit Touch NJ.

He added that In recent years, MEN has done numerous community service events geared toward assisting senior citizens, such as hosting an annual senior luncheon and visiting locations to help clean and do other work. But food distributions have been its main focus since March.

Boys with the organization, along with their mothers, helped distribute Produce Boxes filled with apples, bananas, lettuce and other items. Families with additional children can receive additional boxes as needed. More than 500 residents received food, according to Balkam.