1.2 million New Jerseyans are going hungry right now. How to get help, volunteer or make a donation.

Will Kreznick

For those who are food insecure, there are links at the bottom of this article to lists of nonprofits and agencies in each New Jersey county that list food assistance as a primary service. These organizations also welcome donations and volunteers. In September, the Hillside-based Community FoodBank of New Jersey […]

For those who are food insecure, there are links at the bottom of this article to lists of nonprofits and agencies in each New Jersey county that list food assistance as a primary service. These organizations also welcome donations and volunteers.

In September, the Hillside-based Community FoodBank of New Jersey released a report that projected in 2020 the state would see a 56% increase in food insecurity from the previous year, all the result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report, titled “COVID-19′s Impact on Food Insecurity in New Jersey,” used statistical projections from Feeding America to “examine anticipated increases to food insecurity across the state in 2020 and to advance recommendations for the public and nonprofit sectors to address the urgent need.”

Nicole Williams, communications and public relations manager for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, said those projections turned out to be accurate.

“1.2 million people in the state, including 400,000 children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Williams said.

And, Williams does not expect the need to diminish any time soon.

“People are still suffering without jobs … some have reduced work hours,” she said. “Even though vaccines are starting to go out, I think we’re still in the thick of things. I think rates of food insecurity will be high after the last shots are given.”

She noted that even as people go back to work, they have “spent their savings trying to get by” and are “catching up on bills.”

Soup Kitchen 411 publicist Dan Knitzer agrees.

“Unemployment is down for first time in the pandemic but some people have been in the red through the whole pandemic,” Knitzer said. “Food insecurity will continue to be a huge issue well through (the pandemic).”

Knitzer said Soup Kitchen 411, a nonprofit that purchases meals from local restaurants and serves them at soup kitchens, is “really grateful to restaurants that sell us meals at reduced rates so we can give the meals to those who need them.

“The epidemic isn’t going away any time soon; we’re proud to keep going strong from grants and fundraising.”

The United Community Corp. reported its Champion House Food Pantry in Newark saw a 984.65% percent increase in clients from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, 14,400 clients were served by the food pantry. In 2020, the number of clients soared to 156,177.

“We’ve experienced several hills and valleys in the demand for emergency food packages,” Executive Director Craig Mainor said. “As the infection rates go up and down, and the rules on social distancing are relaxed and then strengthened, the community has expressed an increased need for these services.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in requests for those infected by the illness as well.”

Jeannine Gorman, executive director of the Flemington Area Food Pantry, said the nonprofit had 12,216 visits in 2020; that’s up 15% from 2019. The 2020 number included 520 new families, or, people who have never utilized the services before. There was a total of 30,855 people served via the 12,216 visits.

When clients leave the pantry, Gorman said they have “at least enough for three days of meals,” based on MyPlate recommendations.

When clients go to the Flemington Area Food Pantry, “you’re going to get a shopping cart worth of food and you’re ordering from a menu, so you’re going to get what you selected,” Gorman said.

Clients, who have the option to order online before going to the pantry, can choose from an assortment of menu items including meat, produce, eggs and yogurt in addition to nonperishables and personal care items.

Cars are lined up on Morris Avenue waiting for meal distribution May 30, 2020, to more than 2,000 families at Kean University in Union.Matt Smith | For NJ Advance Media

For its part, since the start of the pandemic Community FoodBank of New Jersey has served 83 million meals in 15 counties; the most meals the nonprofit has served in any previous year. Williams noted all of the meals served by organization contain 25% fresh produce.

“Even before pandemic we’ve always been on mission to address hunger as a health issue,” Williams said, adding although canned foods and nonperishables are important because they’re easy to distribute, “people are in need of fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats … they need adequate, nutritious meals.”

She said the Community FoodBank wants to help those who need food have access to a “well-balanced diet.” Noting that perishables are more expensive than nonperishables, she said “If you’re having trouble affording food, you’re having more trouble affording fresh, healthy items.”

The Community FoodBank, Williams said, has taken a “diverse approach to hunger during pandemic – drive-thru distributions were not something we did before the pandemic; emergency meal kits are something we formulated in response to the pandemic.

“We’re responding holistically.”

Williams said the Community FoodBank offers SNAP application assistance, for instance.

“It’s not only about distributing more food than ever before also about connecting people to resources and doing important policy work,” she said.

Gorman, who noted the Flemington Area Food Pantry online ordering option and curbside pick-up policy were launched during the pandemic, said she hopes the services help alleviate some stress clients may be experiencing.

The pantry receives regular meals from area restaurants, such as the Sergeantsville Inn, Clean Plate and the QCrew.

Gorman said for folks who are coping with job loss, the ability to “just put a meal in the oven takes some stress out of the situation.

“We also have a program for families, ‘Commit Kit’ – everything in bag for families cook a meal together.”

The kit includes crafts, too.

Williams hopes that open discussion and media coverage of food insecurity will lessen stigma.

“I think that there has always been a stigma around seeking food assistance; people felt that even before the pandemic, but people are feeling it more now,” Williams said. “Part of the reason is, nationwide, four in 10 people who are turning to food banks for assistance are doing it for the first time in their lives. People feel it’s their fault for some reason. How do we erase that stigma? Just by talking about it.

“There is no shame in asking for help … you’re not alone; food banks exist just for this reason. We are always here without judgment. Reminding people that this what these organizations are here for.”

Gorman said it’s important for clients and potential clients to know that “volunteers understand their struggles and are thrilled to help with nutritional needs … you will be treated with respect.

“Sometimes when people are through with their crisis, they may come back to volunteer.”

For those who are food insecure, please visit the links below for assistance. The links includes a list of nonprofits and agencies in each New Jersey county, as well as those serving all of New Jersey, that list food assistance as a primary service. To add a nonprofit organization or agency to the guide, email [email protected].

ATLANTIC COUNTY

BERGEN COUNTY

BURLINGTON COUNTY

CAMDEN COUNTY

CAPE MAY COUNTY

CUMBERLAND COUNTY

ESSEX COUNTY

GLOUCESTER COUNTY

HUDSON COUNTY

HUNTERDON COUNTY

MERCER COUNTY

MIDDLESEX COUNTY

MONMOUTH COUNTY

MORRIS COUNTY

OCEAN COUNTY

PASSAIC COUNTY

SALEM COUNTY

SOMERSET COUNTY

SUSSEX COUNTY

WARREN COUNTY

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Linda O’Brien may be reached at [email protected].

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