Local Group Gives Back With Friday Meals

Elaine Taylor, who heads up the meal distribution, takes a peek at meals. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  HOWELL – A local grassroots organization is doing its part to offer residents stigma-free access to at least one meal a week.

  Last November, the Southard Grange #218 began opening its doors to the public every Friday from just 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. A piece of history lives inside as volunteer members gather to distribute delicious-looking dinners to anyone who enters through the door.

  The meals come from area restaurants contracted by a hunger awareness charity called Soup Kitchen 411. However, some other incidentals are picked up along the way to help even further with the premise of “neighbors feeding neighbors.”

  Menus change weekly, with last Friday’s dinners coming in from Simply Southern, a Belmar eatery. A quick peek into the prepackaged meals revealed some sausage laid over a bed of rice in sauce.

Southard Grange #218 is located at 4860 Route 9 in a former two-room schoolhouse. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Meanwhile, those who came through the doors had the opportunity to stuff their bags with some bakery items, like sleeves of bagels, pastries, and tubs of brownies.

  “We see about 25-30 people each week when we’re here,” said Elaine Taylor, who heads up this particular project for the Grange. “Whatever’s left over is distributed throughout the community.”

  Taylor also offered some insight concerning the group’s mission and history. She explained that Granges were historically organized by people involved in agriculture after the Civil War.

  “At that time, all the farms were devasted, so they needed a way to rebuild,” she said. “So, they organized, and it gave the farmers a place where they could have fellowship.”

  According to Taylor, farmers traditionally collaborated to produce goods that could be shared with neighbors. For example, it was pretty common for one farmer to grow tomatoes, another onions, and another zucchini.

  As Taylor spoke, some people wandered in and filled their bags with assorted numbers of meals in take-out containers. A gentleman who turned out to be a regular each week exchanged greetings while another lady eagerly selected some sugary treats to bring back to her family.

  “Some of the people who come here are taking care of elderly parents at home,” Taylor explained. “They may be cooking for a loved one, and this gives them a break. It also helps those who have a hard time taking care of themselves.”

  Taylor’s involvement within the community was the impetus for working with Soup Kitchen 411 to distribute meals locally. As the chairwoman of Howell’s Farmers Advisory Committee, Taylor learned of Soup Kitchen’s mission from an advisory committee member working for the charity group.

A different group of Southward Grange volunteers shows up each Friday to distribute restaurant meals with no questions asked. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Taylor herself didn’t become a farmer until she moved from suburban Oakhurst to Howell in 2000. At her Shangri La Farm on Maxim Southard Road, Taylor raises chickens for their eggs and grows organic produce.

  According to the New Jersey Grange’s website, 36 states have state Grange organizations. The Southard Grange bought a turn-of-the-century two-room schoolhouse as their meeting place in 1937. The group itself began in Howell 100 years ago.

  The Grange uses the red-shingled historic building for an assortment of purposes. For one, it serves as home to the Southard Grange Playhouse, which recently solicited playwrights for short one-act plays. Members also get together for different events and make plans to enjoy the company of neighbors.

Photo by Stephanie Faughnan

  A Thrift Store sits adjacent to the main building in a separate structure.

  An Open House at the Southard Grange scheduled on April 22, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. promises food, games, and entertainment for those who attend. Hopes are to add to the group’s existing roster of approximately 60 members.

Donations of all kinds are stocked up. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Those who visit will also have the chance to take a step back in time. Remnants of the old schoolhouse and an old-fashioned kitchen make for an interesting tour.

  Southard Grange #218 is located at 4860 Route 9 in Howell Township.

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at stephanienjreporter@gmail.com.