In the past 18 years that Elijah's Promise executive director Lisanne Finston has held office, the soup kitchen has not closed for a meal once.
“We’ve never closed the soup kitchen for a meal ever – not for a blizzard, not for a Nor’easter, not for anything,” said Michelle Wilson, the agency’s development and community relations director. “We are always open.”
Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick-based anti-hunger organization for community members in need of assistance, is an organization that not only feeds clients, but gives them the opportunity to learn the skills they need so they can properly feed themselves and their families.
The agency, founded in 1989, is the largest in central New Jersey, and offers services through its well-known soup kitchen, a social services department, a culinary school, and catering.
Located at 18 Neilson St., the soup kitchen is open seven days a week and serves two meals on weekdays and one on weekends. It is open to all those in need of a meal and is now making a push for healthier meals and nutrition education.
Elijah’s Promise has experienced its fair share of difficulties, struggling through food shortages and lack of resources throughout the years. However, with volunteer help and loyal patronage, the kitchen has been able to overcome obstacles, such as volunteer shortages.
“We see that in the winter, some folks can get out there and some folks can’t,” Wilson said. “When they can’t, the guests chip in and start and prepping and dicing and cleaning and scrubbing."
Kitchen manager chef Pam Johnson, a graduate of the Promise Culinary School, oversees the lunch and dinner menus and preparation. In the last year alone, the kitchen as served about 100,000 meals and enjoyed the volunteer services of more than 2,000 individuals, according to Wilson.
“I won’t even begin to understand what it means to be hungry, but our guests do,” Wilson said. “They depend on us and we do our best to provide everything we can for them in terms of the assistance they need. I think people look at us as a hub where they can get information as well as a meal.”
Another program, the Promise Culinary School, is a 13-year-old state-accredited vocational program that has graduated over 600 aspiring food service workers. The school has a 95 percent placement rate in the workforce for graduates, Wilson said.
Aside from the agency’s partnership with Better World Cafe in Highland Park, one of Elijah’s Promise’s newer initiatives is “Let’s Cook!”, a weekly nutrition education program targeted towards low-income individuals on a fixed budget.
The four part, three-hour program helps participants create family friendly meals on a budget so that families can make healthy meals at home.
“We’ve got about 12 people in each class, we’ve got free baby-sitting,” Wilson said. “And the families eat together at the end of the night after they prepare their meal.”