EDITOR’S NOTE: Will Prieto is a sophomore at Montclair High School and a volunteer at Toni’s Kitchen. For a school project, he shared his reflections about what it is like to volunteer at Toni’s Kitchen and what impact his volunteering has had on him and the guests he serves.
The main purpose of Toni’s Kitchen is to help people who struggle to get food. People who need food usually aren’t working or can’t work or don’t have enough money. Toni’s Kitchen has been helping these poor people for more than thirty years. Toni’s was founded by the people of the St. Luke’s church in Montclair. Members of the church that they had choices about what food to eat, which poor people did not. So they started Toni’s Kitchen to serve food to those in need. A woman by the name of Toni Green was the first cook for the kitchen, so they named it after her.
Hunger is a problem in New Jersey, even in a wealthy town like Montclair. One out of seven New Jersey residents struggles with hunger. That is more than one million people, including more than 375,000 children and more than 239,000 seniors. Essex County, the county Montclair is in, has the highest concentration of food insecurity in the state. One in four people in New Jersey have trouble meeting their basic needs. That means that they sometimes have to choose between food and other basic needs, like rent or medicine. Toni’s kitchen helps fight this problem.
My volunteer responsibilities involved setting up the tables. There was a specific way of placing the plates, forks, spoons, and knives. I helped out in the kitchen a little bit, but since I was too young by the rules, I did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Sometimes I had to take out the trash, other times I had to put away used cardboard boxes. Near the end of the school year I helped bring Toni’s to Glenfield Park. The first time I went there, we used a small building that we arranged to serve food. There was also an area for kids to play. The second time we went, we set up a little area outside the building because the building was closed. It was a great success. People who get food at Toni’s Kitchen are very grateful for what the volunteers do.
My service to Toni’s helped hundreds of people get food, who would normally have a hard time getting it themselves. By helping the people who have trouble acquiring food, these actions have taught me that not everyone can get food. I also learned that it is hard for people to get food that’s good and healthy, instead of just buying cheap unhealthy snacks. It makes me think of all the people around the world that have almost no place to go for healthy food. Hopefully this will change, and people around the world will start helping the people who need it the most.
The issue that Toni’s kitchen addresses is ableism. The government can’t give enough money to some people who need help getting the supplies they need to survive in this world. Toni’s Kitchen allows these people to find a way to get free healthy food. This is why Toni’s is a great place.