Lisanne Finston found her life's work in an unexpected place: a soup kitchen. But instead of providing junk food to the poor—a common operating procedure in the nation's emergency food system—she felt that the hungry and homeless deserved the same kind of delicious foods she enjoyed: healthy, locally grown fare. "Half of the food on food bank shelves is cookies, candy, soda, and other sugary drinks," Finston said. "We have to turn this model on its head."
That is just what she is doing as director of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Elijah's Promise, which puts a new twist on the traditional soup kitchen. Under the group's organizational umbrella is a catering business, a pay-what-you-can café, a culinary school and other social support services. Thanks to Elijah's Promise, hundreds of people in the New Brunswick region have access to healthy, locally grown fare every day.
To ensure a stable supply of nutritious, locally grown food, Finston grows her own with the help of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension and community gardens. She also works with schools and child-care centers that feed about 300 children a day and directs the feeding of hundreds of other people through Meals on Wheels and other local organizations. On top of that, she is creating recipes for healthy breakfast bars and muffins that Elijah's Promise could one day sell, with profits used to feed the hungry.
For creating a unique, sustainable model for feeding the hungry and homeless, Finston has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders Award. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Finston received the award during a ceremony in Baltimore, Md., on November 9.
Camilla Comer-Carruthers, project director of Healthier New Brunswick, said, "Lisanne is always focused on benefiting the people served by her organization and the most vulnerable in the community. Her collegial style and supportive approach have led many of us in the community to see her as a mentor and trusted adviser."