By Michelle Sartor
When New Jersey residents lack sufficient funds to pay for their meals, they often turn to the state’s food banks and pantries. Those facilities are struggling to meet the demand, which has grown because of the continuing sluggish economy and recent natural disasters.
Anthony Guido, director of communications and public relations for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, called 2011 “the perfect storm of trouble for New Jersey.” He said in addition to the rising costs of food and the unemployment rate, the recent natural disasters were big factors in the 40 percent rise in need this calendar year. Guido said residents lost power and access to food and some lost their homes during the March flooding, Hurricane Irene in August and the October snowstorm. He added that every county in the state, including those considered most affluent, face hunger issues.
Val Traore, CEO for the Food Bank of South Jersey, said her facility has distributed about 41 percent more food this year than in 2010, citing the continuing financial crisis. She said oftentimes people who do not qualify for public assistance will take care of what she called “visible expenses” like rent, the electric bill and car payments while letting other items like food go by the wayside. Traore said some individuals using the organization’s services are past donors who have fallen on hard times.
“Some come to us after hours looking for groceries,” Traore said. “They’re too ashamed to stand in a food pantry line.”
While she said donations have increased in the past year, it hasn’t been enough to keep supplies at a normal level.
“Historically we keep a six-month supply at all times. Right now, we’re just about at a three-month supply,” Traore said. “We’re at historic lows in terms of our existing inventory. I’m not keeping pace with the demand.”
The story is similar for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which serves 900,000 New Jerseyans in 18 counties. Guido said the organization has had more people donate, but the average donor is giving less, $80 this year instead of $120. He said the organization has relied more on corporate groups and supermarkets this year.
While the organization hasn’t had to ration food in 2011, Guido said the concept has been discussed.
“The way the government allocates food, we’re expecting we’re going to receive less. The way costs have gone, it costs more to buy the food so we anticipate buying less,” Guido said. “It’s scary for 2012 and going forward.”
Traore said it is always difficult for the Food Bank of South Jersey to meet the needs of the community. She said there has never been enough food to meet all the demands in the 26-year history of the organization.
“Our goal is to try to meet as much of it as we can and not decrease it each year,” Traore said. “This will be the time we are meeting less of the demand than we did last year. That’s always a very sad experience for us as a hunger relief organization.”
She said the next 45 days are critical because the “three-month supply is quickly dwindling.” She said she hopes those who can donate feel the sense of urgency and offer some help.
“There is food out there,” Traore said. “It might be sitting in Oklahoma or Maine but I can bring that food to South Jersey if I have funds to pay for transportation.”
Although many are still struggling, there is some good news. The Community Food Bank of New Jersey’s annual Turkey Drive was just as successful this year as previous years, Guido said. Four thousand turkeys and 22,000 pounds of food were donated from Nov. 18-20 and Guido said the group received double the amount of cash donations as last year. Much of the food gets distributed from a warehouse in Hillside to many locations in the state.
A big push in November and December for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey is the Check Out Hunger campaign. Throughout New Jersey, and eight other states, consumers will find donation slips in amounts of $1, $3 and $5 at supermarket checkouts. The cashier can scan the slips and the amount is added to the consumer’s bill. Guido said the donation goes to a food bank in the area of the donation. Last year, the campaign raised more than $1 million.
The Food Bank of South Jersey is currently running a number of food drives throughout that region to try to replenish its supply.
To learn how you can help ease the burden for these organizations, visit the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and the Food Bank of South Jersey. Both groups accept monetary donations, food and volunteers’ time to help the state’s hungry.