The tantalizing aroma of freshly-microwaved chocolate chip cookies floats through the office, and suddenly, a customer service analyst desperately needs to check the fax machine… In the back.

Then an administrative assistant disappears in on urgent mission to find her conference notes…In the back. When the assistant supervisor suddenly seizes the moment to track down the computer technician (also in the back), I find myself alone in the department. Needless to say, all of these desperate missions required a detour through our cafeteria, where CBVI’s BENJ pop-up lunch counter is finishing up preparation for the breakfast crowd, and the early birds who want first dibs on the homemade soup of the day! I’ve decided to grab a pork roll and egg sandwich on a toasted roll and order a freshly-made chef salad for a late lunch.

Despite encouraging news reports of record low unemployment, we know that there is a more comprehensive back story behind the statistics. Among the many segments of our community who continue to struggle to find work, are the blind and visually-impaired.

New Jersey State Library’s Talking Book & Braille Center (TBBC) on 2300 Stuyvesant Avenue in Trenton, is a library that provides no-cost, home-delivered services, on behalf of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress, to children, teens and adults in New Jersey who have difficulty reading standard print or trouble holding a book. Interested parties can apply for the library service by calling 800-792-8322, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.

The designated State Licensing Agency behind the Business Enterprise New Jersey (BENJ) program is the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI). This program trains qualified blind individuals for business opportunities operating vending machines, newspaper stands, and snack bars on Federal property.

BENJ “…operates under The Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936…a federal law that mandates a priority to blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property…and has broadened…to include state, county, municipal and private locations as well” (https://www.nj.gov/humanservices/cbvi/services/bep/).

Program participants “…must be legally blind (20/200 or worse of vision limitations?, at least 18 years old, a legal resident of the United States and the State of New Jersey…and have a GED or high school diploma” (https://www.nj.gov/humanservices/cbvi/services/bep/).

Training is held at the Joseph Kohn Training Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey (https://www.state,nj.us/human services/cbvi/services/jkrc/), and other food service sites. On-site hands-on operational instruction includes adaptive equipment like a “talking” cash register.

Here’s the caveat: the success of enterprising programs for the blind like BENJ rely, in part, on a continuous supply of customers at the operational site. This program operated in Trenton between November and May for about two years before in was discontinued due to a decrease in the number of regular customers. Several students traveled a great distance each morning to complete their training at our site only to face the challenge of adjusting inventory to a smaller and smaller pool of customers.

If you work in a government building or have an appointment in one, remember to pick up something from the newsstand or snack bar in the lobby. Your regular support may be instrumental keeping a blind individual gainfully employed.