The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has opened applications for Phase 2 of its "Sustain and Serve NJ" funding, which provides eligible organizations with grants of between $100,000 to $2 million to support the purchase of meals from Garden State restaurants.

NJEDA Executive Vice President for Special Projects, Tara Colton said the program was first announced by Gov. Phil Murphy in December 2020. Since February 2021, the program has awarded more than $14 million in grants to 28 state organizations.

Those organizations use the funds provided to do bulk purchasing of meals from restaurants and then distribute the meals for free to members of their local communities, she said.

The grantees include homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, and community-based organizations which, collectively are all on track to purchase more than 1.5 million meals from 340 restaurants in New Jersey, all of which are small businesses in the state.

Colton said, according to Governor Murphy, this is a "win-win-win situation." Restaurants, especially during a very tough winter were able to have a steady flow of business, keep their doors open and workers employed. Fresh, homemade meals were delivered to tens of thousands of New Jerseyans who may not, otherwise, have had an option for a good meal that day.

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In Phase 2, Colton said $10 million dollars will be awarded bringing the total number of Phase 1 and 2 to $24 million. She added that this $10 million will most likely lead to the purchase of another one million meals. Between the two phases, it's estimated that 2.5 million meals will be purchased in less than a year.

Restaurants are not directly eligible for the "Sustain and Serve NJ" program. But organizations need to demonstrate they have a track record of doing this kind of work — buying meals in bulk from restaurants. So between March 9, 2020, and June 28, 2021, they need to demonstrate the organizations had purchased at least 3,000 meals valued at $50,000 from restaurants in New Jersey.

Also, organizations must have at least one restaurant that's approved to be a participant in their meal purchases. Colton said some grantees prefer to work with only a couple of restaurants and others work with dozens. It's really their preference.

Colton said she's so moved by the all the stories from Phase 1 recipients who received meals from restaurants. Not only were they provided with nourishing foods, but the program afforded them the level of dignity that they may not had a hot meal in a number of weeks or months. It literally allowed families to break bread together around the table.

She added that restaurants believed this was a vital lifeline for them as this program helped them maintain operations during what they hope was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It's been wonderful to hear the human impact, the relationships that have been built, the trust that has been established and the connections within communities organizations, restaurants, social service providers that may not have worked together before, Colton said.

"The governor always says it's a win-win-win. He probably would throw a few more wins in there. It hits on so many cylinders," Colton said.

She is just thrilled to build on this foundation and go further with this program to do more. Colton stressed this is a fairly simple program design that has achieved so many amazing outcomes so far.

Applications are open from June 28, 2021 until July 18, 2021. It is available at https:///business.nj.gov or at www.njeda.com

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