“We Just Put Our Heads Down and Get to Work”

A Q&A with Paul Jensen, Kitchen and Facilities Manager

Earlier this month TASK closed its dining room to help stem the spread of COVID-19 here in New Jersey, but that has not stopped us from carrying out our mission to provide meals to anyone who comes to our door – no questions asked. Since March 18 TASK’s kitchen staff prepared and packaged thousands of meals to-go for distribution from our front door.  We had a chance to sit down with TASK Kitchen and Facilities Manager Paul Jensen to see how his team ramped up production to respond to the sudden need for food in our area.

Q: HOW MANY MEALS HAS TASK SERVED DAILY SINCE WE STARTED DISTRIBUTING TO-GO MEALS FROM OUR FRONT DOOR?

A: Our numbers have gone up. We are averaging about 1700 meals a day since we began serving each person two meals a day. Normally, we serve about 1,200 meals daily. We attribute the increase to the two-meal-a-day strategy, providing emergency meals, and some new faces.  Folks we have not seen before are now coming to the soup kitchen. Before the pandemic, we were open twice a day for lunch and dinner. For some of our patrons, a TASK meal is the only meal they have access to, so in order to maintain continuity for this vulnerable population we provide two meals to-go.

Q: WHAT OTHER ADJUSTMENTS HAS THE KITCHEN MADE TO ACCOMMODATE THE INCREASED DEMAND?

A: While we are used to preparing high volumes of food at once, we are working at a slightly different pace. Our day begins a half hour earlier at 6:30am to give us a bit more time to get everything ready for the beginning of meal distribution at 10:30am. We prep and cook the meals, finishing up within two or so hours. Now that all our meals are to-go, we then spend an hour plus wrapping the meals – something we normally only did for our off-site deliveries to community partner between meal services. Lastly, while some of the staff bags the meals – getting them ready for distribution – others cook the next batch or begin preparing for the next day’s service.

Q: WHY DO YOU THINK SOME GROUPS IN THE COMMUNITY HAVE TURNED TO TASK DURING THIS CRISIS?

A:  While the circumstances are always different surrounding emergencies, we’ve been here before. So, people know that they can rely on us to help out where we can. We are able to do this consistently because we work as a team. This work is never just about one person and, especially, in times of crisis, that is important to keep in mind. We just put our heads down and get to work.

Q: THE COMMUNITY HAS STEPPED FORWARD TO HELP TASK STAY ON MISSION IN VARIOUS WAYS. IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THEY CAN DO TO HELP?

A:  Our supporters are amazing – it’s what keeps us going! Right now, we need people to just keep doing what they are doing – making those in-kind and financial donations.  Since the Executive Order 107, we are asking folks to not go to the store to shop on our behalf.  If you have items non-perishable items at home or things sealed by the manufacturer, we’ll gladly take them, but we’re encouraging people to limit their travel as much as possible.

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