Public interest group takes on homelessness with new campaign
About half of New Brunswick residents are poverty-stricken and suffering from a lack of food and shelter, but a New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) campaign is attempting to help.
The Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness run by NJPIRG is trying to provide food and shelter to people who struggle with these issues on a daily basis.
Avani Patel, coordinator for the campaign and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, joined NJPIRG to sharpen her social skills while helping others.
“The impact that NJPIRG has on the people of New Brunswick is that we are able to provide a student force which cares deeply about the subject and wish to make changes,” she said.
The goal of this organization is to impact areas of public interest locally and nationally by giving students a voice, she said. They run several campaigns every semester that appeal to a wide range of students.
The campaign allows people to be more flexible in terms of researching the needs of the food pantries in the area and being able to work with them on their goals, she said.
“I do think hunger and homelessness is a big issue in New Brunswick, because I can still see homeless people in many parts of New Brunswick and many times when people have to choose between food and shelter, they go with the latter,” Patel said.
Currently, Five Loaves, a food pantry located on College Avenue, is in need of a transport vehicle for food shipments they get every month, she said. They rent out a U-Haul truck and are forced to rush to each location and back by the end of the day.
The food pantry also has a shortage of volunteers. Often two to three volunteers are in charge of putting away hundreds of goods.
The Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness is trying to provide them with more volunteers and find them a transport vehicle to help them better use their time and money, she said.
NJPIRG has been a part of Rutgers for 40 years with a referendum every three years, Patel said, and has an $11 waivable fee that goes to the campaigns.
Patel has had a change in perspective of homelessness and hunger after joining the organization.
“I feel my brain is now wired to see the obstacles holding me back from accomplishing our goal and immediately looking for pragmatic solutions," she said.
Julius Moye, campaign organizer for NJPIRG Student Chapter, is committed to increasing civic engagement and learning the leadership and organizational skills necessary to run social justice, public health and environmental campaigns on local, statewide and even national levels through this organization.
“Through this work, (students are) learning skills that they will have for the rest of their lives so they can organize their communities for social justice even after their college careers,” he said.
Students can get involved in NJPIRG through their “Recruitment Drives,” which occur in the beginning of the semester and involve students promoting the organization with class announcements, posters and phone calls.
Additionally, students can get involved with the organization by contacting an organizer or their student board directly, he said. More information can be found on their website.
The latest statistics estimate that the poverty level in New Brunswick is between 27 and 33.9 percent, Moye said. In 2012, the number of poverty-stricken people in New Brunswick was about 50 percent, he said.
“It is still clear that there is an issue with the amount of people that have trouble financially, which in turn translates to hunger and homelessness,” he said.
Recently the “Feeding the Hungry” coalition, a network of shelters and poverty-relief organizations, was just officially recognized by the City Council this last Wednesday.
“This is a great step in the right direction,” he said.
Last year, the Hunger and Homelessness campaign raised $1,650 for Coming Home, which focuses on sheltering and feeding families and individuals in need, and $850 for Five Loaves Food Pantry, which focuses on helping people find housing.
The participants involved in this campaign have collected thousands of food and clothing items during drives and volunteered in hundreds of service hours, Moye said.
They have also done a lot in terms of outreach, he said, such as calling around to shelters, pantries and charitable organizations to see what is most needed in the community every semester.
Through the campaign, Moye has gotten to know John Sabin, the George Street Saxophonist, by discussing with him and inviting him to NJPIRG’s "Playing For Change" event. During this event they did musical performances on the street to raise money for Five Loaves.
“I think the best part about this work has been hearing the anecdotes of others,” Moye said.
In order to make an impact on the community and help people who are hungry and homeless, Moye advises students to receive training from workers at local food pantries. Then, they can conduct surveys and ask those who are hungry and homeless about their struggles.
Ryan Amann, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said New Brunswick can help homeless people by holding more food drives and similar events to provide them with food.
“I feel homelessness is a big issue,” he said. “I often see homeless people wandering around New Brunswick and worry if they have enough shelter and food.”
When Moye thinks of homeless people, he said bad luck and hard times come to mind.
“I like to hope that the issue of homeless people in New Brunswick will be better in the future,” Amann said.
Jessica Herring is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in English. She can be found on Twitter @Jesslindsey93.