Coronavirus News: Toni's Kitchen in Montclair collects thousands of meals for students and families in need

MONTCLAIR, New Jersey (WABC) -- Toni's Kitchen in Montclair, New Jersey has been serving food to those in need for some 28 years. Since schools in Montclair, and neighboring Bloomfield, were forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, the charity has partnered with the towns to step up and help fill the void for students who would be receiving school lunches.

"What we are trying to do now is redesign our work to meet this hugely increased need and the availability of volunteers," said Executive Director Anne Mernin.

Twice a week at the high school and other locations, families pick up not only boxed lunches but also fresh produce and groceries. Their "Healthy Backpack" program serves about 400 families a week.

"You have parents that have kids in school and they are working a low wage job, who now can't go to work, and have kids stuck at home," said Mernin. "They have the food need they had before but now also don't have an income."

Volunteers have been working non-stop packaging donated groceries and also prepping meals for homebound seniors and other clientele who rely on Toni's for hot meals and a sense of community.

For the volunteers themselves, strict social distancing rules are in place to ensure their safety.

"Some of the challenges have been keeping the distance, making sure all of our surfaces our sanitized, and changing gloves every twenty minutes," said Kitchen Manager Stacey Cooper. "Our meals went up by the thousands and so it's getting enough volunteers and getting the food that we need."

Precautions are paramount but volunteers are resolute in their desire to help their neighbors.

"I think it's important because there are people out there that are in greater need than I am," said one volunteer. "So as long as I am healthy and I have the time to give, I'm retired, so that's what I do."

If you are interested in finding out how to donate food or volunteer at Toni's Kitchen, visit their website.

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