New Brunswick community kitchen appoints new director
In January, Elijah's Promise — a New Brunswick-based organization that strives to break the cycle of poverty through alleviating hunger — named a new executive director, Michelle Wilson.
Wilson said she began working at the community organization 11 years ago, when she got her start as its development and community relations director.
She recalled an inspiring story from her first day on the job. Jane Betz, one of the founding members of Elijah’s Promise, came in to meet with her and explained the values of the community kitchen.
“She said you need to understand when you’re working here, that these are guests in our kitchen,” Wilson said. “That everyone’s story and every person who walks through our door is valued and respected, and that is what we do here at Elijah’s Promise.”
Wilson said this was a special moment, one that she still reflects on when making decisions for the organization years later.
As it moves forward, Wilson said she wants Elijah’s Promise to continue providing quality, healthy and nutritious meals to the people of the community who need them.
“We continue to serve more meals every month than we did the year before,” she said, explaining that the organization's hopes to continue this trend.
Elijah’s Promise is also looking to expand its urban agriculture program in order to connect more people with school nurses to increase awareness of the resources it offers, and to expand its “Let’s Cook” program.
She said that “Let’s Cook” is a program for low-income seniors and children, where they teach community members how to cook healthy meals on a budget. According to the website, sections of these cooking classes are specialized for children, adults, cooking for wellness and cooking in the garden.
Wilson said that she previously worked in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University. At the time Elijah’s Promise was a much smaller community soup kitchen, and it was doing its first work with urban agriculture, which is what Wilson got involved with.
“I have seen it, over the years, grow from a small organization and sort of spread out and serve tens of thousands of more additional meals, and start a culinary school and expand their urban agriculture program,” she said.
Currently the urban agriculture program, called “Promise Agriculture,” provides garden space to residents, produces food for the community and engages and educates residents about the process of food production, among other things, according to its webpage.
She said that the organization still works with Rutgers. Hundreds of student volunteers throughout the year work with different professors, departments and schools like the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy, showing strong relationships with the University.
She said students can check the organization’s Facebook page for updates on volunteering and other events.
“We are an organization that survives on the goodwill of the community, and we are who we are because of the people who volunteered and supported us,” Wilson said. “And I always do come back (and) think of that Jane Betz story.”
She said she hopes the organization can continue to expand and that people in the community are aware that Elijah’s Promise is there for them. Being able to meet the demand of the people walking in everyday and providing them with a nutritious meal is what is most critical to the group.
“We say we use food to change lives,” Wilson said.