Program Spotlight

Program Spotlight | Community Food Connection | June 2023

The Community Food Connection, initiated by Interfaith Neighbors (IFN), has already made a lasting impact on food justice in the Asbury Park area and hopes to spread its influence by organizing more individuals, community groups, foundations, farms, and health-care systems to combat food insecurity together. The Community Food Connection is a community-led coalition that connects Asbury Park food pantries and other community spaces to share information and resources, to ultimately have an impact on eliminating nutritional insecurity and increasing food access. This coalition is an outgrowth of the Building Healthier, More Equitable Communities (BHEC) program, led by the Philadelphia-based Reinvestment Fund, and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Four cities, Asbury Park, Camden, Paterson, and Newark were selected to participate in the BHEC program in 2021, and IFN is the designated lead agency for Asbury Park. IFN BHEC Coordinator, Karyn Moskowitz, has played an integral role in the coalition.

“Growing up in the Garden State, eating fresh produce from farm stands, I was veggie-obsessed from a young age,” Karyn said. She described her passion for food justice and her realization, while working in Louisville, Kentucky that numerous individuals lack access to consistent, affordable, healthy food.

“According to the NJ Economic Development Authority, Asbury Park is the 17th ranked food desert in severity in the state. And the number one cause of death in our country is heart disease. What we’re dying from is preventable, and we need to invest in creating access to fresh, healthy food to stop it,” Karyn stated.

Karyn’s knowledge and enthusiasm, combined with Interfaith Neighbors’ and BHEC’s mission and resources, has led to numerous initiatives in Asbury Park to combat these issues. Community Food Connection linked with NJ family owned Fernbrook Farms, that was passionate about their food being distributed to those lacking access to fresh produce. Last year, with funds from the BHEC Grant, Hackensack Meridian Health, and many individual donors, IFN purchased produce from Fernbrook Farms, supplying 200 families with fresh, local produce every week. This season, 400 families will be receiving this produce weekly from 17 food pantries in the Asbury Park area.

Another success for food justice in Asbury Park germinated by the Community Food Connection is a popular farmer’s market, Asbury Fresh Market, accepting NJ SNAP benefits for low-income families! The coalition is working to expand these conversations with other farmer’s markets.

“We’re focusing a lot more on workshops and demos this season, as many people who now have access to fresh, healthy food don’t exactly know how to prepare it. We’ve created veggie tip sheets and recipes, and plan on hosting cooking classes” explained Karyn.

In fact, this past May, Community Food Connection partnered with the Asbury Park Mayor’s Wellness Committee for “Stigma Free May.” This challenge explored the connection between behavioral health and nutrition, challenged citizens to adopt a plant-focused diet, and had numerous events with community partners. Some of these events included cooking demos, panel discussions, and guided meditations.

The coalition’s work does not stop at Asbury Park. Karyn is part of the Statewide Food Policy Council. Two recent workshops, in collaboration with Newark, focused on “Reimaging Local Food Systems” and “Food is Medicine.” Working with other cities to advocate for statewide policy change is important to the coalition, as well as the BHEC initiative.

As the Community Food Connection gears up for its second growing season, they can use all the help they can get! Visit the IFN website to find out more about how to get involved and volunteer. Fighting for food justice every day, the Community Food Connection keeps planting seeds and growing roots, so our food system can continue to improve.

Program Spotlight | The Power of a Knock | March 2023

A knock at the door might not seem like a big deal to many of us. But, to a homebound senior citizen, it could signal the arrival of the only person they might see all day, or all week long. It brings hope. It brings health. It brings the nutrition and care that will completely make their day. A knock from an Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels representative means nourishment for the body and soul.

Every weekday Interfaith Neighbors’ employees and volunteers knock on doors and deliver meals to homebound seniors throughout Monmouth County. Many of these senior citizens would face food insecurity and/or malnutrition without our services. According to Meals on Wheels America, 7.2 million senior citizens are either food insecure or facing hunger in the US. There are layers of examples and stories behind these numbers, and Interfaith Neighbors aims to provide long-lasting positive effects on the seniors we serve through our Nutrition/ Meals on Wheels Program.

Interfaith Neighbors began operating the Monmouth County branch of Meals on Wheels in 1991. Our organization delivers over 1,100 meals every weekday. Powered by employees and hundreds of volunteers, we make sure these meals are delivered to the doorsteps of homebound seniors and six municipal congregate sites for seniors who need it most.

Senior populations are some of the most at-risk when it comes to food insecurity. About 33% of older adults admitted to the hospital may be malnourished and up to 50% of community-dwelling older adults may be malnourished (Meals on Wheels, 2020). The nation’s growing senior population, expected to double by 2050 to 112 million, will exacerbate this need. Meals on Wheels services are needed now more than ever.

COVID-19 has had lasting negative effects on senior hunger and malnutrition as well. According to Meals on Wheels America, the proportion of seniors 60 years and older who sometimes or often did not have enough to eat rose to 4.9% in 2020 from 2.8% in 2019, a 75% increase. Not only did seniors suffer more from hunger due to the pandemic, but they also reported higher rates of anxiety or depression.

Many of our Meals on Wheels recipients reported being extremely lonely during the pandemic, causing their mental well-being to decline. We continue to experience COVID spread in our communities resulting in our seniors continuing to feel isolated and fearful of exposure to the virus.

We fufill the need for social interaction and nutritious meals for homebound seniors. Frankly, our Meals on Wheels deliveries are much more than a meal, and numerous seniors have expressed how much our drivers’ friendly faces mean to them.

March marks a special time for the Meals on Wheels nationwide organization, March for Meals. The March for Meals Campaign shines a light on the need for funding to continue addressing growing isolation and hunger, through community-based programs such as the one IFN facilitates.

Approximately 350,000 meals are prepared and delivered annually by Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels for seniors and disabled persons. We operate 75 routes covering the 665 square miles of Monmouth County, delivering hot lunches, and for many participants, their daily breakfast. Each day our kitchen team, drivers and up to 125 volunteers make our program work. No one is required to pay for their meals, but donations are appreciated from recipients who are able and from the broader community.


Program Spotlight | Home for the Holidays (Almost) | December 2022

Owning a home means stability, agency, and being part of a community to Carritta Cook. Carritta has recently contracted to purchase one of Interfaith Neighbors’ (IFN) Parkview AP homes. She and her son Jeremiah will be moving into the home Spring of 2023. Almost home for the holidays, and certainly looking forward to enjoying them in her new home come next year.

Parkview AP is an Interfaith Neighbors project, which will ultimately result in ten new homeowners on the West Side of Asbury Park. To date, six of the homes have been completed, sold and occupied. Two of these were purchased by qualified low- to moderate-income purchasers, and the other four, were purchased at market rate. Each property includes a three bedroom, two and a half bath home and a detached garage with a one-bedroom apartment above. The remaining four properties, all of which have contracted purchasers, are projected to be completed in the second quarter of 2023.

Originally from Trenton, Carritta came to Asbury Park because her godmother lived here, and she was hoping to find more affordable childcare for her son, Jeremiah.

“We haven’t turned back ever since. Once we settled into Asbury Park, I always said this would be our forever home” Carritta explained. Now employed at a local oral surgeon’s office and the President of the Asbury Park School Board, Carritta has certainly become ingrained in the Asbury Park community. She described that she feels more at home and part of this community than she ever did in the ones she grew up in.

“The back unit that I will be able to rent out is one of the greatest parts. Rental payments will provide me with supplemental income that will allow me to leave living paycheck-to-paycheck behind,” Carritta described when asked about her favorite features of the home. Once she becomes more financially stable, she hopes to keep the back apartment unit as an extension of her own home.

“Owning a home means financial freedom to me,” Carritta explained. It’s the little things, like taking a day off to go to her son’s school assembly, that being more financially stable will give her the agency to do.

Carritta went on to talk about the Pathway to Home Ownership Program Interfaith Neighbors offers and how IFN helped her purchase this home. Pathway to Home Ownership provides a first time home buyer credit counseling to be sure they are ready for the transition to homeownership. Participants sign a one-year lease on a three-bedroom apartment and pay a below-market-rate monthly rental fee. IFN escrows a portion of their monthly rental payments to contribute to the down payment on the purchase of a home. Carritta said she could not imagine accomplishing owning a home without this program.

“Helping me figure out the lender process was a huge help. They advised that I could go to multiple lenders if need-be without it hurting my credit. Interfaith suggested several lending options and one of them worked out great!” Carritta explained.

When Carritta moves into her new home next spring, she is hoping to foster a child as well. Carritta has already started the process to become a licensed foster parent and has one last home study and an inspection to pass before obtaining her license. Another child who needs a home will be given a place in her Asbury Park haven.

“I’m excited I won’t always have to be on Jeremiah to be quiet when he’s playing because there will be no one living below us,” Carritta stated, chuckling a bit. Jeremiah is especially excited they can have their two cats live with them again, who have been staying at a friend’s house.

With so much to look forward to including stability, safety, and comfort, Carritta Cook and her family are grateful and excited to become new homeowners. Next year, she’ll have her first months of homeownership under her belt, and a place to call home for the holidays.


Program Spotlight | Celebrating 50 Years | March 2022

The annual March for Meals celebration commemorates the historic day in March of 1972 when President Nixon signed into law a measure that amended the Older Americans Act of 1965 to include a national nutrition program for seniors 60 years and older. This year, Meals on Wheels programs from across the country are joining forces for the awareness campaign to celebrate 50 years of success and garner the support needed to ensure these critical programs can continue to address food insecurity and malnutrition, combat social isolation, enable independence, and improve the health of seniors for years to come.

Interfaith Neighbors began operating the Monmouth County Meals on Wheels program thirty-one years ago in 1991. Every weekday, we prepare and deliver over 1,100 meals throughout Monmouth County, through the efforts of over 125 volunteers and Interfaith Neighbors’ staff, to seniors at home and municipal congregate sites across the county.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting everyone after two years, but the pandemic has highlighted just how important the Meals on Wheels program is for home bound senior citizens.

Many older adults struggled with hunger and isolation before the corona virus pandemic. These past two years have exacerbated these issues and increased the need for services like Meals on Wheels. Reporting from Meals on Wheels America shows an increase of seniors, aged 60 and older, have reported that sometimes or often they didn’t have enough to eat from 2.8% pre-pandemic to 4.9% in 2020 – a 75% increase.

Here in New Jersey, eighteen percent of senior citizens are food insecure, meaning they are at-risk for hunger. Additionally, twenty-six percent of NJ seniors have a disability. The daily home visits of the Meals on Wheels program provide opportunities to not just meet nutritional needs, but also combat social isolation, address safety hazards, and provide a daily check in.

Nationwide, one in four senior citizens live alone, and one in four report they feel lonely. Often, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person the homebound seniors see on a given day. For a home-bound senior citizen, these daily meal deliveries and check-ins are often what allows them to stay in their homes and continue to live independently. Staying in one’s own home can make a huge difference both to one’s quality of life and financial resources.

Approximately 350,000 meals are prepared and delivered annually by Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels for seniors and disabled persons. We operate 75 routes covering the 665 square miles of Monmouth County, delivering hot lunches, and for many participants, their daily breakfast. Each day our kitchen team, drivers and up to 125 volunteers make our program work. No one is required to pay for their meals, but donations are appreciated from recipients who are able and from the broader community.


Program Spotlight | We Have Lift Off | November 2021

On September 13, 2021, Interfaith Neighbors officially opened the Launch Center in the Springwood Center adjacent to MacroBites at the Kula Cafe and the IFN Business Development Center. The Launch Center’s tag line is “Launch your career – Launch your business – Launch your life,” and it represents the evolution of Interfaith Neighbors’ economic and workforce development programming. Moving into the new space also marks the launching of new programs and services that are available to the community, grouping programs and services in a way that allows Interfaith Neighbors to meet people who come to the Launch Center where they are personally in their life.

The Launch Center Public Computer Lab

The new space, complete with a computer lab available to the public, help desk, classroom, multiple small group meeting areas and private offices for confidential coaching sessions, offers a welcoming and accessible environment from which we can offer our full spectrum of personal, career and business development programs and services to the local community.
The Launch Center now offers Personalized Advancement Services. At the Help Desk, anyone in the community with a problem can find assistance in determining the solution. Mission Control Life Coaching is designed for individuals who are ready to take action in moving towards their deams and would benefit from guidance and support along the way. Business Development Center Coaching is for local businesses and new entrepreneurs who would benefit from personalized mentoring to launch, grow or stablize their business.

IFN’s Career Preparation Programs have been updated and include three different entry points. Lift Off Work Experience is for adults of all ages who have been disengaged from the workforce due to incarceration, addiction, homelessness, illness, etc. It provides short-term entry level employment to ease in the transition back to work and provides an employer reference in their future employment search. The Level Up Work Experience Program is designed for adults who are driven towards entry into industries in which hands on work experience outweighs academic training. This program, which replaces the Kula Cafe Hospitality Training Program, partners with area local businesses as job placement sites for participants in the program.

The SOAR program continues to be IFN’s signature career preparation program. It is the pathway for those individuals who have demonstrated their ability to maintain a job and are ready to soar into a career. This program includes intensive career specific, non-college, educational certification training and long-term mentoring and coaching.
Focusing on the broader community, the Center also offers a new service, the Launch Pad Learning Lab. The Learning Lab offers a regular schedule of workshops for community residents with a desire to enrich their lives. Workshops are offered on topics including financial wellness, conflict resolution, professional communications, computer literacy, interview skills and more.

The Launch Center is also working with local businesses to host a Jobs Board of available positions in the local job market along with a Virtual Resource Center for business owners to access tools and resources to augment their businesses.

To learn more, stop by the Launch Center located at 1201 Springwood Avenue, Asbury Park, visit or call 732-455-0519.


Program Spotlight | Kula Urban Farm | June 2021

At the Kula Urban Farm operations continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While some programming had to pause, the greenhouse and garden beds continued to produce fresh produce throughout.

During the pandemic, most of the produce grown at the farm was donated to the Asbury Park Dinner Table project, which provided free meals for local families who were struggling to purchase food due to pandemic related job loss.

The Kula Farm operates as a social enterprise, relying on the sale of produce to fund its produce donations and its workforce development programs. As the pandemic began and area restaurants were forced to close, the farm temporarily lost many of its regular restaurant customers. However, the Farm team quickly got to work on an online marketplace and began to sell produce to the general public, creating a whole new base of customers for the farm as society and our restaurant partners return to normal.

Another impact of the pandemic was a temporary halting of our Kula Farm Experience jobs program. Due to safety protocols, opportunities for non-essential workers at the Farm were limited. However, we were able to keep a core team of six working to ensure the greenhouse and beds continued to thrive. Matthais Van Oosterhout and Lisa Bagwell manage the farm. Ewelina Makowska is the assistant greenhouse manager. And, rounding out the team is Charles Ade, Chuck Thomas, and Nico Durant. This summer we are finally able to welcome back additional seasonal workers and volunteers.

The Farm continues to cultivate the “Turf” Farm Without Borders site at the intersection of Springwood and Atkins Avenues along with the undeveloped lot located between the Kula Farm and the Bethel AME pantry on Atkins Avenue. This spring, a third Farm Without Borders site was established on city-owned land located at the intersection of Springwood Avenue and Avenue A.

“The impact of the Farm on the community is often measured in pounds of produce or hours of work, but I believe the true influence lies in the physical change of a once empty lot into a dynamic growing space. Urban farms provide a place where people can connect with their food culture as well as nature. They can have a very real impact on our mental health, maybe by just offering the space to appreciate the beauty of a sunflower,” says Lisa Bagwell, farm manager.

The Kula Urban Farm produces approximately 6,000 pounds of fresh produce annually, donating up to 4,000 pounds to community members, food pantries and meal programs.
As the pandemic eases, workshops have resumed at the Kula Farm. Farm to Table Dinners are also scheduled to resume later this summer. You can sign up for the Farm newsletter or inquire about booking a Farm to Table Dinner by emailing [email protected]. If you have a knowledge of gardening and are interested in volunteering at the farm, please contact Lisa Bagwell, Farm Manager at [email protected].


Program Spotlight | Pathway to Homeownership | December 2020

Asbury Park resident Carritta Cook, 32, has dreamt of becoming a homeowner ever since her 6-year-old son Jeremiah was born.

“I want a ‘forever home,’ somewhere he can grow up,” she said. “I want him to have the stability of knowing he will always have a home to come to.”

Her dream is on its way to becoming a reality due to Interfaith Neighbor’s (IFN) Pathway to Home Ownership (Pathway) program, which offers an affordable three-bedroom, two bath rental, while she prepares for purchasing a home. A percentage of Cook’s monthly rent will be placed in escrow by IFN, to be used towards her down payment, IFN’s Director of Real Estate Development Patrick Durkin said.

Carritta Cook tours her new apartment in the Pathway to Homeownership house.

IFN recently completed construction of a new Pathway home on Borden Avenue. The home features two 3-bedroom apartments. Tenants generally occupy the home for a year to eighteen months to save for their downpayment, improve their credit, secure mortgage pre-approvals and find a suitable home for purchase.

Cook moved to Asbury Park from Union County after being ‘sold’ on the area and the local school district during visits to her godmother’s home. She is a single mother who is also fostering 18-year-old I’jhanae Silas, an Asbury Park High School senior, while balancing work at an oral surgeon’s office and the pursuit of a college degree.

Cook with her family in front of the new IFN Pathway to Homeownership home.

Prior to participation in the program, Cook lived in a costlier apartment complex that offered little privacy and less square footage. She was astounded by how much IFN’s program offers – a way to accumulate a down payment, affordable rent, and pleasant and safe living conditions.

“This is more than I envisioned,” said Silas, who dreams of becoming a pediatrician. “This is the first time I will have my very own room.”

Cook loves the Asbury Park community and has IFN’s Parkview AP in mind or similar two-family home to purchase with a friend. She expressed gratitude for the opportunity to create a forever home for her son and Silas through the Pathway to Home Ownership program.

The Interfaith Neighbors Network