Homeless roofer Graig Miller and former lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno have at least one very personal thing in common: food insecurity.
Miller, a 41-year-old Keansburg resident who described himself as an alcoholic, was among three dozen hungry adults and children gathered for lunch on a recent sunny day inside the soup kitchen and food pantry in the Church Episcopal of Saint Mark of Keansburg. He said that the roofing work he thought he would be doing that day did not materialize, so he was free for lunch.
It was an Italian seafood stew made with whiting, squid and stingray, literally extracted from sources that might otherwise have thrown it into the ocean or, worse, a garbage container, because the market was simply not worth the cost of shipping.
"Impressive," said Miller, a fish lover, on the plate of fresh seafood, a healthy source of protein, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B2 and other nutrients. "They did an excellent job."
Despite its health benefits, fresh seafood has been a rarity in popular dining rooms and food pantries so far, although much of the fish caught in New Jersey and elsewhere is wasted. But fishermen, business and civic leaders, and volunteers in Monmouth and Ocean counties are trying to change that, with a seafood collection program that has served and distributed more than three tons of fresh fish in canteens and pantries that They had absolutely nothing wrong. that the lack of sufficient demand in the commercial market.
Although the collection of fresh meat and vegetables has been going on for centuries (Hunters for the Hungry has provided 2 million pounds of venison in New Jersey), the so-called Seafood Gleaning Program is a creation of the former Jersey Shore fisherman Shore Brick Wenzel, who got the first program harvested fish in August after spending two years putting together a production and distribution network.
It includes the Fisherman's Wharf Cooperative in Point Pleasant Beach, whose members catch the fish; the Trinity Seafood processing plant in Lakewood, which freezes and packs it for distribution; and the Fulfill non-profit food pantry, which regularly feeds 136,000 people in Monmouth and Ocean counties with two stores and a network of 289 pantries, soup kitchens and women's shelters. A donation of $ 50,000 from the Tyson Foods Protein Innovation Fund pays for boxing and labeling.
"We can't think of a better way to give back to the community than to help feed the needy," said Trinity President Mike Carson of Little Egg Harbor, a former longline fisherman and father of two.
Guadagno, former Lieutenant Governor Chris Christie and sometimes faced his boss, became the CEO of Fulfill in May. He was also in St. Marks during the same lunch hour, when he served Miller and others his stew. It is a dish known as Acqua Pazza, or "Agua loca", which in this case used whiting, squid and "cow's nose" instead of the sea bass normally required in the recipe, which also includes a clear broth made with cherry Tomatoes, red onion, garlic, fennel and other spices.
Guadagno, a former federal prosecutor and former Sheriff of Monmouth County, said he took Fulfill's job to "give back" to the community after a year of private practice after his failed attempt to succeed Christie in 2017. It's a cliché, Although honest, this is routinely invoked by successful people doing charitable or nonprofit work. But when he pressed on what he meant by that, Guadagno revealed a very personal aspect of his life that was very specific to Fulfill's mission.
"Eighteen years ago I adopted a child suffering from food insecurity," Guadagno said of his son Anderson, discussing his condition publicly for the first time.
The boy was only 14 months old when he adopted him and during that first year, he would accumulate food in his room, leaving it everywhere, he said.
“He had lost all his front teeth. He drank nothing but Coca-Cola. And when it came to me that was the condition I was in, "he said.
"He is now 19 years old, and he still feels the effects of what happens to a child early in life when he has no food."
While Guadagno talked about his son's story, the current food uncertainty of residents in the northern area of Monmouth County was too visible in the kitchen and dining room of San Marcos, where the tables gradually filled with humble and friendly people. They congregated for lunch, while the volunteers prepared the seafood stew, in addition to an optional menu item.
"Now, we have an alternative dish for people who don't like fish," said volunteer chef at St. Mark's Warren Schueler, a former professor of chemistry and culinary arts at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, who had been the chef. at the Hudson River Club in lower Manhattan. Delivering the final sentence, he added: "And that's liver! No no no. It's Parmesan chicken and spaghetti."
The fish and Schueler got excited.
"We had a lot of fun with him," said St. Mark's pastor, Reverend Rose Broderick, who said a non-religious grace before sitting down to eat.
Pantry officials said a challenge for the seafood collection program is to overcome the reluctance of many people to participate in the fruit of the sea.
"I don't like fish," said Chelsea Villano, 26, of Port Monmouth, who had come to San Marcos with his mother-in-law, Colleen Meyer, hoping to receive rental assistance, and stayed for lunch. "My mom never did it for me."
"Once I ate fish with lemon I thought it was chicken with lemon," Villano added. "I took a bite and said," This chicken is bad! ""
Only San Marcos regularly feeds 700 families, including 1,000 adults and 500 children, who serve hot meals in the dining room to present people with the dishes and then provide boxes with the same ingredients, along with the recipe, for people to take away home and get ready
Guadagno said the total number of people fed by Fulfill, including 86,000 adults and 50,000 children, is a surprise to donors and other people aware of the relative wealth of the coastal region of the two counties, but not their pockets of poverty and Continuous struggles with addiction and other problems. .
“People listen to Monmouth and Ocean County, and they say:‘ What? Are there hungry people in Monmouth and Ocean County? ", Said.
Wenzel, the fisherman who founded the espigado program, said that he and others who live from the sea also have very personal reasons to support the program, which he plans to extend to other areas of New Jersey and the country. Wenzel said other commercial fishing states, including the Carolinas and New York, have already expressed interest.
"If we can get 1% of commercial fishermen in the continental United States (we are not talking about Alaska, that is a completely different world) to participate in the Seafood Collection Program, we could serve 42 million meals a year to people that they are food insecure, ”said Wenzel.
That means putting fish in a refrigerator instead of throwing it overboard when the latest market report says the price is too low; or collecting perfectly edible squid pieces cut by sorting machines; or leaving aside the so-called bycatch, odd species are coiled or dragged along with a net or long line full of the target catch.
"The snack that came in, they were beautiful fish, but with the market we couldn't afford transportation for them, and they were going to be thrown overboard," Wenzel said, listing the ingredients in the stew. “The squid came from the cooperative's processing team. The cow's nose rays were a fortuitous capture and there was no market for it. They were fishing by chance at that time. "
Wenzel, 54, had a lot of stories about local fishermen who had stopped him on the street or at the dock to thank him for starting the eared program. A sailor whose eyes filled with tears as he spoke said he reminded him of the times he had no food security and that he had to rely on a local food bank, so he was paying that now.
For others, the program amounts to a kind of acquittal during a lifetime of throwing away food that could have filled hungry bellies if there had only been one system to make it happen. Wenzel said one of them was John Stensland, the octogenarian owner of the commercial and sport fishing company Fisherman’s Supply Company in Point Pleasant Beach, an old man of the sea revered in local fishing circles.
As Wenzel recalled: "He told me:" When I remember my life and all the fish I've wasted, I want you to know that I can sleep better at night knowing you're doing this. "
Steve Strunsky can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find NJ.com on Facebook. Do you have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips.
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