Lauren Puryear literally took her quest to feed the hungry to the extreme.
The thousands of coupons she has clipped, along with others donated to her cause, are paying off, primarily in urban centers in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Coupons have helped the 29-year-old Virginia resident and New Jersey native from Union County put together 26,000 meals since September, at an estimated cost of $500. An additional 5,000 meals were served with the help of money and food donations.
“We were paying out of our own pockets, and (food and money) donations weren’t enough,” Puryear said of her organization, For the Love of Others. “Then I was introduced to couponing.”
Poverty rates for Baltimore and the nation’s capital are 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively, according to the Census Bureau.
Atlantic City’s poverty rate is higher — about 33 percent in 2015. The rate is much higher for families with children younger than 18 — about 45 percent.
Richard Uniacke, executive director of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey’s southern branch, said he wants to talk with Puryear about how couponing efforts could help feed Atlantic City’s hungry.
The need to provide food to the hungry in the resort is increasing.
The Rev. William Williams III of Asbury United Methodist Church said his Touch Feeding Ministry started out feeding lunch to 50 to 75 people on Saturdays more than four years ago. The operation now feeds between 350 and 400 people a week.
Last summer, the Vision 2000 organization based in Second Baptist Church took over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer food program for children when the city didn’t have the money to run the operation.
At least 900 children were fed breakfast and lunch, said the Rev. Collins A. Days Sr., the church’s pastor.
At Sister Jean’s Kitchen in Atlantic City, the resort’s declining economic climate is changing the demographics of who stops by for lunch. Much is linked to the recent closings of casinos.
“We’re starting to get whole families now. Not just our homeless,” said chef Frank McKay.
Sister Jean’s generally cooks up 250 to 300 meals a day. The number can sometimes climb to about 500, McKay said.
Puryear said she started believing in extreme couponing when, during a supermarket visit, she bought about 500 cans of vegetables for about a penny apiece.
Her effort moved to spaghetti, meatballs, fresh vegetables, meats, tomato sauce, canned chicken and other food.
It’s all helped her organization reach the goal set in September of serving 30,000 meals by September 2017.
Puryear searches supermarket circulars for sales. For some sales, she’ll ask the supermarket operator to order more of that product. That once included 1,000 extra jars of tomato sauce.
Puryear said her organization is starting to devote more time to feeding children. That includes providing more foods like granola bars and fruit cups that would appeal to them.
Staff Writer Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.