Feeding the hungry - Begun by high school students, Harvest House celebrates fifth anniversary

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:01

Sussex - Five years ago, one teacher and 13 students at Vernon Township High School founded a Hunger Project that began with a Harvest Festival and had a goal of establishing a center where lunch could be served to individuals and families in need. Five years later, Harvest House, located in the First Baptist Church at the intersection of routes 23 and 284 in Sussex is tangible evidence of their endeavors. In April, 1999 the Vernon Township High School Hunger Project won the National Make a Difference Day Award and received $10,000 from Newman’s Own Corporation. Subsequently the trustees and congregation of the First Baptist Church in Sussex voted to allow the use of their facility for the program and began renovating the building to make it possible. In February of 2000 the first bag lunches were distributed, and in October of that year the first hot meals began to be served on a daily basis. “Working with those youngsters to create Harvest House was absolutely the most gratifying thing that I’ve done professionally,” said Fran Spielhagen, a former Vernon High School teacher who founded the program and has since left to become an education researcher at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Harvest House attempts to fill the physical and emotional needs of the underserved by providing a clean, safe and welcoming environment. It serves 25-45 meals per day. Erin Sweeney, one of the founding members of Harvest House, has since gone on to graduate from the University of Chicago and is a post graduate student at Harvard University. “I have been away, but it’s so good to come home and see that something that we started is still there and still feeding the hungry,” she said. “Just because you leave home doesn’t mean that you can’t do something to help, and I stay in touch by E-mail.” Harvest House depends on the support of grants, monetary and material donations and a variety of fundraising activities. “This is not a done deal, this needs to be sustained, and it’s easy to forget about the local needy with all of the other things that are going on in the world,” said Spielhagen. “When people give to Harvest House, the money goes right to the people who need it and to the people we live with.” For more information, call 973-764-8500.