Care.Connection.Community through the Summer Food and Nutrition Program

Aug. 5, 2020

Care.Connection.Community through the Summer Food and Nutrition Program

How we are nourishing and enriching our community during the pandemic.


About the Summer Food and Nutrition Program

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a food and nutrition pandemic, affecting several communities throughout the world. In New Jersey, we have not been immune to these food and nutrition challenges.

To address food insecurity in our local communities, Princeton University has developed the Summer Food and Nutrition Program. With this program, several departments within the University are collaborating to implement the program with the Office of Community and Regional Affairs, the John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement, and Campus Dining at the forefront. The initiative includes partnerships with the Princeton Public Schools, Meals on Wheels, Home Front, and The Rescue Mission of Trenton to provide meals for at-risk families, children, and individuals in East Windsor, West Windsor, Hightstown, Princeton, and Trenton.

Under the leadership of President Eisgruber, Princeton University has been contributing to several community related programs. The University’s senior leadership thoughtfully reviews each program proposal and with the development of the Summer Food and Nutrition Program, Princeton has made another impactful investment to support local communities during these uncertain times. The generous contribution enables this program and allows continuity of employment for all Campus Dining staff.

In this program, our Campus Dining team will produce approximately 9,500 meals a week to be distributed to an estimated 1,800-2,000 people in surrounding communities with managers Paul Dylik, assistant director of grad/catering, Donna Pilenza, associate director of team and people, and Linda Recine, assistant director of purchasing, in charge of organizing the program.

Our chefs have prepared globally diverse meals including chicken pozole, beef and broccoli, chicken tikka masala, vegetable paella paired with roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed summer squash, and three bean salad. Executive Chef Jerry Luz, CEC, and Executive Pastry Chef Brian Schoenbeck have led the menu planning to include vegan and vegetarian entrées and sides. The cookies and desserts are all prepared at the University’s Campus Dining Bakeshop. During the summer months, we would normally prepare all our menus for our students and our on-campus community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and visitors. This summer however, we are honored to serve our communities in and around Princeton.

Here are some sample menus we prepared for lunch:

  • Turkey breast on ciabatta with whole fruit
  • Roast beef and cheese on kaiser roll with whole fruit
  • Italian hoagie with whole fruit

Here are some sample menus we prepared for dinner:

  • Cucumber tomato salad
  • BBQ pulled chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and zucchini
  • Dinner roll
  • Dessert
  • Garden salad with dressing
  • Beef and broccoli with fried rice
  • Dinner roll
  • Dessert
  • Garden salad with dressing
  • Vegan vegetable paella
  • Dessert
  • Carrot salad with raisins
  • Roasted lemon rosemary chicken with roasted potatoes and broccoli
  • Dinner roll
  • Dessert
  • Couscous salad with vegetables
  • Chicken tikka masala with rice and vegetables
  • Dinner roll
  • Dessert

Sealed and labeled dinner trays of roasted sweet potato and zucchini.
Roasted sweet potato and zucchini

Sealed and labeled dinner trays of BBQ pulled chicken.
BBQ pulled chicken

Containers are labeled and filled with three bean salad.
Three bean salad

Packages of fresh cookies from the bakeshop are wrapped in cellophane.
Bakeshop cookies

In addition to prepared meals for the Princeton Public Schools, we pack weekend groceries that include ingredients with which families can prepare fresh meals at home. Brown rice, pasta, tuna, low-fat yogurt, and bagels are all included. Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP) delivers fresh vegetables and fruits that complement the dry ingredients for a healthy kitchen pantry.


An individual size cup of Cheerios, 2 packs of tuna, boxes of raisins, a box of pasta, 2 cans of Chicken Noodle Soup, a bag of rice, and a bag of black beans laid out on a wooden table.
Contents of the Summer Food and Nutrition Program grocery bag for Princeton Public School families during week 1 of the program.

Our proposed items for breakfast/lunch bags for student for two days:
  • 2 shelf-stable milks (not pictured)
  • 2 yogurts (4 oz each) (not pictured)
  • 1 bowl of cereal (Cheerios)
  • 1 box of penne pasta 
  • dry beans
  • 2 cans of soups 
  • 1 box of brown rice (2 pounds)
  • 2 pouches of tuna
  • Small boxes of raisins

These ingredients were reviewed by Sue Pierson RD, director of residential dining, who brought her expertise as a registered dietician to ensure that the ingredients are balanced and promote healthy nutrition.

Because families receive grocery kits with fresh produce, our staff contributed homestyle recipes that families can cook at home. On our website we have uploaded these recipes which you can access and prepare too. One of my favorite recipes for an afternoon snack or a salad topping is fried chickpeas.

Since we are reaching many children during their summer holiday, we started to include a letter to students with a Princeton themed coloring page and crayons. Through this letter I share about our menus, my team, and our work. The letter and coloring page are updated every week and given out in both English and Spanish. 

People are at the heart of community engagement and I wanted to have a connection with members of our community. My team applied our culinary and service philosophy to this project with health and well-being, sustainability, diversity, and community engagement all a part of our daily culture. We operationalize hospitality through these principles. My hope is that we are able to bring a degree of joy, nourishment, and color to our vibrant and endearing community.


Working with Our Summer Food and Nutrition Program Partners

Campus Dining and Human Resources collaborated on the Summer Food and Nutrition Program to offer continuity of employment, including health benefits, to Campus Dining employees.

My colleague Romy Riddick, assistant vice president for Human Resources, said of the partnership and program, “Hats off to University Services Campus Dining, Office of Community and Regional Affairs, and the PACE Center for their collective efforts to serve meals this summer to communities in need, exacerbated by COVID-19. Our legacies always depend on the impact we have on others. It is an honor to be part of an institution full of people who care deeply for the surrounding communities and who work hard in the spirit of service.”

At the start of the program I shared the details with our Union President, mentioning that this was a new program and we would have a learning path ahead of us. This is a partnership for common good and thank you to Bridget Walsh, associate director, labor relations, Human Resources, and Tommy Parker, president of Princeton’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 175 and mail carrier, mail services, University Services, for the collective partnership.

On my own team, I wanted to highlight the work by Paul Dylik, Donna Pilenza, and Linda Recine. As the head of the department, I am grateful for their enthusiasm and care as we learnt a lot about such a style of production. We traditionally prepare fresh meals in our kitchens and serve them in our dining halls and campus cafes. While we had expert knowledge with the volume production, we had to learn about the nuances of packaging and delivering individual meals with new logistics and requirements in place.

The work by each of our partners at HomeFront, The Rescue Mission of Trenton, and Meals on Wheels is impressive. New Jersey is better cared for and served with the presence of many nonprofit organizations. My colleagues Kristin Appelget, director, Community and Regional Affairs, Kimberly de los Santos, John C. Bogle '51 and Burton G. Malkiel *64 executive director, Pace Center for Civic Engagement, and I were so pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with our local partners.

“We are exceedingly grateful to Princeton University’s Campus Dining, Office of Community and Regional Affairs, and John H. Pace, Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement for providing more than 12,500 meals to those who are homeless and those who are in recovery treatment at The Mission,” said Mary Gay Abbott-Young, chief executive officer of The Rescue Mission of Trenton. “The University’s Summer Food and Nutrition Program will be providing about 2,500 meals per week for a little over five weeks this summer,” Barrett Young, chief operating officer of The Rescue Mission of Trenton, added. “All of our hearts are lifted at The Mission by the University’s generosity, compassion and commitment to address food insecurity, particularly during this pandemic which is challenging us all like never before.”

Sasa Olessi Montaño, chief executive officer for Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, mentioned, “I have partnered with many kitchens and organizations but working with Campus Dining was a seamless process for our volunteers and our clients.”

The organization HomeFront offers a comprehensive and holistic array of services for families and individuals who are either homeless or at high-risk of becoming so and assists them in becoming self-sufficient. Connie Mercer, HomeFront founder and CEO expressed that, “HomeFront is very pleased to partner with Princeton University in their Summer Food and Nutrition Program and as a result provide healthy and well-balanced meals to families and individuals in Mercer County facing dire food insecurity issues. HomeFront and Princeton University and their students have a long and influential history of working together to lessen the immediate pain of homelessness.”    

Our partnership with Princeton Public Schools and SHUPP allowed us to support even more families within our community.

 “We are grateful for Princeton University's generous support as we continue meal support for our students and their families this summer. 5,900 meals is just incredible!” said Beth Behrend, president of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.

In tandem with the grocery bags that we offered families every week through the program with the Princeton Public Schools, SHUPP supplied fresh fruits and vegetables. We were encouraged knowing that together, we were able to give families a host of wholesome ingredients to create meals with. Ross Wishnick, chairperson of SHUPP said, "This summer, SHUPP was pleased to work with the University. With the University providing prepared dinners and a large bag of shelf-stable items every week, SHUPP was able to provide a large bag of fresh produce each week. The produce is first quality and direct from the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market utilizing the services of Green Spoon Market. A terrific addition to the partners SHUPP has identified over the years. SHUPP is thankful for its relationships with Princeton Public Schools, Princeton University, Mercer Street Friends, Green Spoon Market and numerous volunteers. We are delighted to be part a of a community that prioritizes supporting those in need on our community.”


Several Campus Dining team members in Procter Hall work to organize and fill bags with family meals.
Campus Dining team members work to fill bags with prepared meals, ready for distribution.

Campus Dining team member places sealed packages of food into brown bags for distribution.
Campus Dining team member, Maria Claros, retail food service worker, packs meal bags to be distributed to individuals and families.

A truck is slowly filled with black bins. Bins line both walls and the back, 5 bins high.
Bins of food are placed in a storage truck, ready to be transported to distribution sites.

School buses are lined up on one side with delivery trucks on the other. People move back and forth carrying brown bags of food and produce to the school buses.
Princeton University, Princeton Public School, and SHUPP employees help load bags of pre-made dinners, shelf-stable grocery bags, and fresh produce onto school buses to be delivered to families.

Paul Dylik is handed a labeled brown bag while other employees move around behind him and school buses are lined up in the background.
Paul Dylik, assistant director, Grad/Catering, helps organize bags of pre-made dinners and groceries as they are moved from delivery trucks and loaded onto school buses.

A large brown bag, seen from a bird's eye view, filled with packaged Cheerios, milk, yogurt, beans, pasta, and rice.
The contents of the grocery bags for families of the Princeton Public Schools.

I wish to thank all our community partners for opening their venues to us so we have an opportunity to serve with them. I wish to thank all my colleagues at Human Resources, Office of Community and Regional Affairs, Pace Center, Risk Management, and many departments who worked behind the scenes to make this program possible. Lastly, I wish to thank all my colleagues in University Services and my team, who is extraordinary in their care for our community through their resilience, ingenuity, and wisdom that they bring to enrich our daily experiences.

And yes, I say, Princeton is the best place to work. It is a humble privilege to serve and lead my diverse team in an authentic way in service of our community, one meal at a time.


-Smitha Haneef, assistant vice president, University Services