The New Jersey towns of Summit and New Providence are among the most upscale in the state. Household incomes are high, home prices remain strong, and local amenities are first-class. Nevertheless, some residents of these affluent communities are going hungry—an inequity that the area’s AlphaGraphics franchise is working to eliminate.
Mike Tan, president of AlphaGraphics Summit / New Providence, has dedicated the month of September to a food drive that will help SAGE Eldercare stock its Meals on Wheels program and support other anti-hunger initiatives. Tan has produced food collection boxes and signage that he is asking local businesses to install, and he has designated his own shop as a drop-off point as well.
Tan says he is encouraging his business customers to display the boxes on their premises until September 30. As the boxes become filled with the non-perishable food items that the drive is seeking, SAGE Eldercare will pick them up and distribute the contents where they’re most needed.
Marianne Kranz, coordinator of SAGE Eldercare’s Meals on Wheels program, says that Tan’s shop aims to place about 50 of the boxes before the drive is through. If each of them can be filled three times, she says, that would be an “awesome” outcome on behalf of local senior citizens who may not know where their next supply of food is coming from.
Tan’s effort is part of a nationwide drive that AlphaGraphics launched last year to support food pantries in regions served by its franchisees. Besides providing the boxes and the signage, Tan is promoting the effort through e-mail blasts and personal appeals both to business accounts and to walk-in customers. The same request is made of vendors to the franchise: their sales calls, says Tan, are opportunities to “remind them gently” that hunger exists in the community and that they can pitch in by joining the drive.
Tan also notes that food pantries, homeless shelters, and other charities needing food typically receive the bulk of their donations during the year-end holidays and that by summer, their stockpiles are low. This makes the timing of the campaign appropriate, he says.
Kranz says that although the existence of hunger may seem unlikely in places as outwardly prosperous as Summit and New Providence, some older residents have become “food insecure” as the ironic result of their lifelong ties to the community.
“You could walk into what appears to be a nice home, paid off 40 or 50 years ago,” says Kranz, who manages what SAGE Eldercare believes to be one of the longest running meal programs in New Jersey, if not the oldest in the state. “But the taxes are $12,000 a year, the roof needs fixing, and they’re living on Social Security.” What it means for these isolated, fixed-income residents, she says, is that “they can’t afford to live here”: a cruel reality that often forces equally cruel choices between paying the upkeep on the home and putting food on the table.
SAGE Eldercare, one of the oldest organizations of its kind in New Jersey, has been confronting situations like these since 1954. Its primary objective is to help the elderly remain safely and comfortably at home for as long as they wish to live independently.
The not-for-profit organization now operates 11 outreach services that assist 5,000 elders and their families annually in Union, Morris, Somerset, and Essex counties. The food collected by AlphaGraphics, including the low-sodium and low-sugar items that donors are being asked to provide, will be allocated to Meals on Wheels and to other nutrition-focused programs that SAGE Eldercare supports in New Jersey.
Tan says he quickly saw the urgency of SAGE Eldercare’s mission when he approached them as a potential partner for the food drive. “We have to support each other,” he says, in mutual efforts to do what can be done to relieve hunger in the community. His nine employees are also doing their part to enlist participation in the drive: “Everybody here wears a sales hat,” Tan says.
He opened the franchise in Summit in 1989. In search of lower rent and more parking space for his customers, he relocated the shop to New Providence, an adjoining town, four months ago. Most of his work is done for local businesses to which the shop offers offset printing, digital printing, and a full-service bindery.
Tan hopes that conducting the food drive will help the shop become as well known in New Providence as it has been in Summit. But the main goal is to banish hunger, a societal ill that doesn’t discriminate by Zip code when people, especially the elderly, are vulnerable. “We’re looking forward to a successful campaign,” Tan says.