On Thursday, January 13, 2022, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) opened its doors to patrons for its lunch service, like it does every weekday at its Escher Street dining room. On this day, however, patrons were invited to take a seat in front of a warm bowl of soup as TASK observed the 40th anniversary of its first meal in the city of Trenton.
In 1982, in the midst of the worst economic recession since The Great Depression, a group of community organizers came together to address the rapidly worsening problem of hunger in Trenton. On January 13, in the basement of the First United Methodist Church (now Turning Point United Methodist Church), they served roughly 60 butter sandwiches to members of the community. From there, the effort – and the need – continued to grow.
Since then, TASK has evolved with the times and has grown exponentially to meet the needs of the Trenton area community. After years of moves to different sites and venues, TASK finally settled at its Escher Street home in 1991. At the time, Board Chair Steve Leder coined the building “a triumph of community,” a term that continues to describe TASK today.
Over the years TASK began to recognize that hunger was only one crisis affecting the Trenton community. Today, TASK offers a full suite of programs and services to help its patrons improve their quality of life and work toward self-sufficiency, including adult education, job search, case management, peer recovery, creative arts and more. In addition, TASK expanded its meal service program to distribute meals at community partner sites including religious organizations, schools and other nonprofits throughout the area.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic challenged TASK to meet a higher demand for food and more assistance navigating a pandemic world on behalf of those who are living in poverty. Without missing a single day of service, TASK expanded to serve roughly 8,000 meals per week at 32 community meal sites throughout the Trenton area, increasing meal production by an average of 70-percent beyond pre-pandemic rates.
Now more than ever, TASK acknowledges that hunger is not a simple issue. The struggles that contribute to food insecurity are complex and require the full support of the community to continue to inspire resilience and triumph.
And so, on January 13, TASK invited its patrons, staff, current and former Board members, volunteers and supporters to take a few moments to reflect on TASK’s 40 years and what lies ahead.
“The old adage is: ‘Give a man or woman a fish and they will eat for a day; teach them to fish and they will eat for the rest of their lives.’ TASK is here not just to serve a meal, but also to make sure that people become self-sufficient, providing services you will need for the rest of your life,” said Senator Shirley Turner.
Assemblyman Dan Benson echoed the Senator’s thoughts. Remembering his own childhood when neighbors helped his family through a challenging time, Benson said, “TASK helps to feed your mind and feed your soul. TASK helps you to make it to the next day and see a better future.”
Pastor Rupert Hall, TASK Board Member and Senior Pastor at Turning Point United Methodist Church, where TASK served its first meal, observed that feeding people is a core value of many religious faiths – a uniting principle across community. Quoting author Audre Lorde, Pastor Hall remarked, “’Without community, there is no liberation.’ TASK is what it means to have a community and liberation from homelessness and hunger.”
Looking back and looking forward, TASK Executive Joyce Campbell remarked that TASK has always been led by its guiding principles. “We share a mutual humanity and always aim to treat each other with dignity and respect,” said Campbell.
“Throughout the pandemic, we did not stop feeding for a day,” Campbell noted, referring to TASK’s pivot from serving meals cafeteria-style to pre-packaged meals to-go at the height of the pandemic. “For the last seven months, our dining room reopened and it has been a joy to have volunteers back in the building helping,” she continued, to a round of applause. “I really hope we’re not still here in 40 years, but if we are we know we will be here with the support of the community.”
As more soup was ladled, entrees were served and cake was cut. Volunteers resumed serving lunch while patrons engaged each other in conversation. Much like it was done for the preceding forty years, TASK turned its attention back to the work at hand, turning hunger into hope for the Trenton area community.