Sussex County staff from the Division of Community and Youth Services and the Division of Social Services have joined up with staff from the Interfaith Hospitality Network and Carepoint at Newton Memorial Hospital to provide weekly outreach to guests at the Manna House soup kitchen in Newton. In 2006 Sussex County Substance Abuse/ Mental Health Administrator Cindy Armstrong learned of a successful outreach program in a Morris County soup kitchen, and thought Sussex County residents would benefit form a similar program here. She asked her colleagues if they thought a need exists for this kind of outreach and if they would be willing to participate in an outreach program in Sussex County. There was a very positive response to the idea. After visiting the Morris County program, doing extensive research and meeting several times with leadership at the Newton First Presbyterian Church which houses the Manna House program, Ms. Armstrong and her colleagues were given permission to move forward.
The Manna House Tuesday Outreach program started in November of 2006. Outreach workers started going to Manna House every Tuesday during lunchtime, setting up a table with literature and providing information and referrals to guests upon request on a variety of services and community supports. Some of the topics of information include: how to apply for food stamps, where to find help paying utility bills, how to find a job or job training, where to go for assistance with housing for people who are homeless or do not have a permanent place to live, who is eligible and how to apply for Medicaid and NJ Family Care health care coverage, and whatever other needs are brought up by the guests. Outreach workers have copies of Food Stamps, Medicaid and Energy Assistance applications on hand and often assist guests with filling out the forms. The format is casual and respectful with no pressure placed on guests to talk to the outreach workers. Every effort is made to ensure that the same outreach workers are at Manna House every month so that guests will begin to build familiarity and feel more comfortable asking questions. Outreach workers make a point of saying hello to guests with a smile.
A survey of Manna House guests in the Spring of 2007 found that the majority of guests knew about the Tuesday Outreach program and found the information given by the outreach workers was helpful. Outreach workers have expanded the program by adding information for monthly “Awareness Month” topics such as Child Abuse Prevention information in April and Breast Cancer Prevention information in October. November will mark the one year anniversary of this program.