Adopt-A-Family campaign enters fifth year at Rutgers
Rutgers Against Hunger is schedule to host its fifth annual “Adopt-A-Family” campaign this fall. The program provides low-income families with food and household items.
RAH is asking students to donate household items to help over 200 families in need.
“We provide food and small gift items to families across our community, and help people in need learn that there are people out there that want to help,” said Chris Retzko, the RAH program manager.
Retzko said RAH’s mission is to bring together the resources of the University to fight hunger across New Jersey.
Every year, RAH works with 12 social service and community-based organizations to run the “Adopt-A-Family” campaign, said Kat Decker, the RAH program coordinator.
A majority of the agencies are from New Brunswick, as well as Edison, Middlesex County and Somerset County, Decker said. The service organizations then identify the most needy clients in their area.
RAH works with public schools in the area that have identified students whose families may need assistance, she said.
“One school in particular stated that 98 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced lunches,” Decker said. “So they’re coming from very low-income households.”
Decker said many of these children come from single-parent families with parents who work minimum-wage jobs or are unable to work at all.
The program is also coordinating with a senior citizen housing program and domestic violence shelters, she said.
Once the families are identified, Decker said, they are asked to fill out an RAH family profile form which outlines the family’s individual needs. Since students can only donate nonperishable foods, the first page gives the family various options so that they can choose from their favorites.
“We also have grocery store gift card option, which is really great because it allows the family to go out and buy the fresh foods that we cannot donate,” Decker said.
The questionnaire also includes a page for personal hygiene products, and a more specific page for each individual member of the family to fill out, she said.
Many of these requests are just basic items that many people take for granted, Decker said, like dishes, drinking glasses or silverware.
Decker said some have made larger requests for items such as beds. One family of 10 slept in bunk beds, with two family members sleeping in one twin-sized bed.
“The circumstances are really critical for some of these families,” Decker said, “So there’s a definite need for this program and the resources that it is providing to these families.”
Deirdre Valentini, an RAH intern, said she matches up these families with university sponsors.
Valentini, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she was assigned to do a year of fieldwork with RAH as part of her major in social work.
The job has given her experience working with the needy and lets her see the great variety in demographics of the people poverty affects, she said.
“I think it’s a misconception that hunger, poverty and homelessness only happen to certain people,” she said. “I think it’s important for RAH to spread awareness that it could happen to anybody.”
Unfortunate circumstances, such as losing a job and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, can all affect people in drastic ways, Valentini said. She hopes by spreading awareness, other students will get involved.
Decker said with all the families this year, RAH needs all the support they can get from students and faculty to donate items or become sponsors.
Students interested in getting involved can contact RAH for more information on how to donate, she said. They can contribute food, shampoo, diapers, winter hats and gloves.
“It’s just amazing to see the support that the University and community provide to this program and to the families who are receiving the donation,” Decker said.
She said when the English department sponsored a family that needed beds, a staff member from the department reached out to a local furniture store to coordinate a donation.
Decker said the amount of boxes delivered the day of donation always overwhelms RAH and the local agencies. That delivery day is one of the best days of the year for the program.
“They aren’t expecting much, but here we come with a university facilities truck filled to the brim with donations for each family,” she said.