Dozens of New Jersey’s young bankers rolled up their sleeves and spent a cool autumn morning harvesting vegetables at Grow-a-Row Farm in Pittstown for the tables of the needy.
Forty-five members of the New Jersey Bankers Emerging Financial Leaders Group got down and dirty with zucchinis, carefully twisting their stems and filling containers bound for regional food banks and pantries.
Michael G. Affuso, executive vice president of the New Jersey Bankers, said, “This is the proudest thing I do, to move forward to help folks less fortunate.”
Jessica Jakobson, vice president and manager of member experiences for the bankers association, added, “This is an annual event, the third year for our young bankers.”
Two members of the New Jersey General Assembly Erik Peterson and John DiMaio, both representing the 23rd District, serving Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties, were on hand to cheer them on and offer their support to the America’s Grow-a-Row program and Chip Paillex, its president and founder.
Peterson said, “What Chip has done here is just a little bit of an idea that grows into something so powerful. You can see from start to finish how it can change somebody’s life.”
DiMaio added, “It’s amazing work to organize a large-scale operation like this to grow food for the needy – a Herculean effort. I didn’t realize how great this is.”
Paillex welcomed the bankers and outlined Grow-a-Row’s mission, which he said is based on three pillars: Grow, Glean and Give.
The nonprofit grows about 2.2 million pounds of produce a year. Volunteers glean more by collecting from stores and orchards produce that is still fresh but not quite saleable. Paillex said, “We ‘rescue’ about 200,000 pounds a year. All this is given away. People select their food just as they do at a grocery store and the only thing missing is the cash register.”
Paillex said, “This is our 20th season.” Since 2002, Grow-a-Row has donated more than 14 million pounds of produce. It generally can depend on about 9,000 volunteers each year, but during the pandemic that number has dropped to only about 3,000, he noted.
The organization partners with more than 40 hunger relief, healthcare, and community organizations to get farm-fresh produce onto the tables of those experiencing food insecurity and related health issues.
Grow-a-Row’s four farms total 430 acres. The group serves food banks, food pantries, faith-based pantries and soup kitchens in Trenton, Phillipsburg, Camden, Hunterdon County and Flemington in New Jersey and Philadelphia and Bethlehem in Pennsylvania.