Mercer Street Friends honors Coughlin for his efforts to combat food insecurity

Mercer Street Friends, a nonprofit supporting the community as the Food Bank for Mercer County and through comprehensive family and education programs, recently honored Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin with the 2024 Humanitarian Award for his dedication to ending food insecurity in New Jersey.

The group’s fourth annual Leadership Awards, presented by NJM Insurance Group, was held at the group’s newly opened food bank in Ewing.

Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), who was introduced by Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, was noted for dedicating himself and his platform to working toward a future in which no family suffers the effects of food insecurity.

During his tenure in state leadership, Coughlin has helped raise the monthly minimum SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) benefit from $50 to $95, has expanded free school lunch opportunities for children, increased aid to food banks by 800% and created New Jersey’s Office of Food Security Advocate, the first in the nation. With the support of other community leaders and organizations, Coughlin has stated he hopes to eliminate hunger in New Jersey by 2030.

“I am honored to accept this distinction from Mercer Street Friends, an organization that has been empowering local families and supporting them on their journey to stability and food security since 1958,” he said. “And I was thrilled to be part of an inspiring evening that brought together so many champions of the community, who are working to end hunger in our New Jersey neighborhoods. Community involvement is the backbone of any successful initiative, and I am encouraged by the tireless work of Mercer Street Friends and its network.”

Mercer Street Friends CEO Bernie Flynn, the longtime former CEO of NJM, said the honor was well deserved.

“Speaker Coughlin’s unwavering dedication to the people of New Jersey makes him the ideal recipient of this award,” he said. “The dedication of leaders such as the Speaker and Claire Babineaux-Fontenot has helped Mercer Street Friends make an impact in the Mercer County community. We are pleased to award Speaker Coughlin with this prestigious distinction as a fighter for the people of New Jersey.”

Mercer Street Friends is a member of the Feeding America network of more than 200 foodbanks from around the country, and proudly welcomed Babineaux-Fontenot to its warehouse for the first time.

“The type of change needed to end hunger in New Jersey and across the country requires strong leaders and strong partnerships,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “Together with food banks, community partners and people facing food insecurity, we are moving toward the hunger-free future we are all striving to achieve.

“Organizations like Mercer Street Friends and leaders who use their platforms to catalyze positive change, like Speaker Coughlin, are critical in the movement to end hunger and ensure that everyone has the food they need to thrive.”

Additional event sponsors included: Anne Irwin & Bob Holt and Capital Health (Benefit Sponsors); and Ann & Bernie Flynn, Bank of America and Selective (Awards Sponsors).