Despite its health benefits (protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B2), fresh seafood has been a rarity at soup kitchens and food pantries, while much of the fish caught in New Jersey and elsewhere goes to waste. But fishermen, business and civic leaders, and volunteers in Monmouth and Ocean counties are trying to change that.
The aptly named Seafood Gleaning Program is the brainchild of longtime Jersey Shore fisherman Brick Wenzel, who spent two years putting together a production and distribution network that includes the Trinity Seafood processing plant in Lakewood. “We can’t think of a better way to give back to the community than helping to feed those in need,” says Trinity’s president Mike Carson.
Also part of the network is the nonprofit Fulfill food pantry, which regularly feeds 136,000 people in Monmouth and Ocean Counties with two warehouses and a network of 289 pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. The CEO is Kim Guadagno, a former federal prosecutor, Monmouth County sheriff, and lieutenant governor, who revealed a highly personal aspect of her life that is very specific to Fulfill’s mission.
“Eighteen years, ago I adopted a child who was food insecure,” Guadagno said of her son Anderson. “He had lost all of his front teeth; he drank nothing but Coca-Cola.” Just 14 months old at the time, he would hoard food in his room. “He is now 19, and he’s still feeling the effects of what happens to a child early in life when they don’t have food.”
The program amounts to a kind of absolution for a lifetime of throwing away food that could have filled hungry bellies if only there had been a system in place to make it happen. Now fish with a market price that is too low can be placed in a cooler instead of being dumped overboard; and perfectly edible scraps of squid severed by sorting machinery, or the odd species reeled or hauled in along with the targeted catch, can be also set aside.
Wenzel says that John Stensland, a locally revered “old man of the sea,” and owner of the commercial and sport fishing outfitter Fisherman’s Supply Company in Point Pleasant Beach, told him, “‘When I look back on my life and all the fish I’ve wasted, I want you to know that I can sleep better at night knowing that you’re doing this.’”
Wenzel plans to expand to other areas of New Jersey; and other commercial fishing states, including New York and the Carolinas, have already expressed interest. He added:
“If we can get just 1% of the commercial fishermen in the continental U.S. to participate in seafood gleaning, we could serve 42 million meals a year to people who are food insecure.”