Nearly 35,000 Meals Delivered to Union County Residents During the Month of September
ELIZABETH – By LisaMarie Gaeta–
In the wake of Hurricane Ida, The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth (HACE) has been hard at work providing resources to the Elizabeth community. In cooperation with the City of Elizabeth, HACE has been assisting Hurricane Ida flood victims with information and resources to help meet needs such as shelter, emergency rental assistance, food distributions, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and more. HACE works with many agencies through the city, the county, and the state, including many non-profits such as The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Groundwork Elizabeth, Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, The Gateway Family YMCA, and YWCA Union County.
“We are committed to supporting the community in this extreme time of need,” said Cathy Hart, HACE Deputy Executive Director.“With a pandemic that we are still dealing with and now the disastrous effects on personal property from the flood, all of this also negatively affects individuals’ mental health. We understand the importance of doing all we can for the Elizabeth community as well as for residents in the surrounding areas in Union County.”
Another way HACE has been able to quickly adapt to the needs of the community is through one of its Jobs Plus Programs led by Fresh Chef Catering’s CEO Chef Ameer Natson. This part-time, 12-week, certificate training course called the “Cook, Learn, Grow Culinary Training Program with Celebrity Chef Ameer” began at the end of July and will run through mid-October. Prior to Hurricane Ida, Natson taught participants to prepare delicious meals on a large scale. Monday through Thursday, 100 meals have been delivered to senior residents at O’Donnell-Dempsey Towers. Opportunely, HACE and Chef Ameer have now been able to aid Meals on Wheels of Union County, which was forced to temporarily suspend meal deliveries after their Linden facility suffered flood damage. In less than one week from the time the storm hit New Jersey, Natson was able to relocate meal preparation operations to a larger, commercial-grade kitchen at the African American Cultural & Learning Center on Spring Street in Elizabeth with meal preparation becoming fully operational on September 8th.
Ameer Natson explained, “One of the things that I’ve always wished to be able to do is to really make this apprenticeship real with HACE. In every tragedy is a blessing, and when the Meals on Wheels facility flooded, had it not been for our culinary apprenticeship I would not have had the opportunity to help because I wouldn’t be able to pull my existing team away from their preassigned work. Now we have five participants being afforded pay that is well above minimum wage and they are feeding this community in need. My dream really has come to fruition by being able to compensate these hardworking individuals, and I thank them for committing themselves to this apprenticeship as part of HACE’s Jobs Plus Program.”
In addition to the 100 meals that were prepared and delivered each weekday to senior residents at HACE from Monday through Thursday throughout September, 900 more meals were prepared by Natson and Jobs Plus Program participants each weekday since September 8th, with another 200 meals prepared for each weekend distribution, for Meals on Wheels trucks to deliver across the county. Nearly 35,000 meals were delivered to Union County residents in September.
Cathy Hart also remarked on the extraordinary work being done by HACE residents enrolled in the culinary course, “I can’t tell you how proud we are of them, they’ve really taken something and grown it to something so much bigger in such a short period of time.” HACE and Chef Ameer intend to continue serving these meals to support Union County residents until the Meals On Wheels facility can get back up and running or an alternate location is identified.
HACE has shown its appreciation for not only Chef Ameer for offering this culinary training program and adapting to the needs of the community, but the housing authority also recognizes that this initiative, as part of the Jobs Plus Program, would not be possible without the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For more information about HACE’s Jobs Plus Program, contact LaChelle Thompson, Jobs Plus Program Director, at 908-965-2400 ext.153.
HACE, in partnership with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and the Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) Grant Program, hosts food distribution events at 8 o’clock a.m. on the first, second, and fourth Thursday of every month in the Community Center located at 688 Maple Ave in Elizabeth. The events are open to all Union County residents and recipients are encouraged to bring bags, social distance, and wear masks; no ID is required.
For more information on HACE visit www.hacenj.com.
About the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth
Since its formation in 1938, the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth has worked diligently to meet the housing needs and improve the quality of life for all the residents it serves. The Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth is responsible for over 1350 units of public housing and delivers a broad range of services ranging from social, economic, educational, and redevelopment. For more information about HACE, visit www.hacenj.com.